global slavery index

First Ever Global Slavery Index Identifies Over 29 Million Slaves Worldwide

Image courtesy of the International Labour Organization (ILO) via Flickr.

Slavery isn’t dead. In fact, the 2013 Global Slavery Index estimates there are 29.8 million modern slaves across the world. Where and why are there so many enslaved?

Despite the practice of slavery being specifically prohibited under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with modern-day definitions made illegal as well under a UN convention in 1956, slavery exists on every nation and continent globally.

The new 2013 Global Slavery Index estimates there are 29.8 million modern slaves across the world.

What is the Global Slavery Index?

Believe it or not, the 2013 Global Slavery Index, generated and published by the Walk Free Foundation, is the first of its kind. The index provides the most comprehensive and accurate measure of modern slavery as it exists in every country.

Modern slavery comes in a variety of forms and functions, such as human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, servile marriage, and sale of children into armed conflicts: all demonstrate the treatment of human beings like property.

The major difference between modern-day slavery and slavery of the past is that today’s slaves are both cheap and disposable. Also, the total amount of slaves today is over double the amount of slaves taken from Africa during the 400 years of the Atlantic slave trade.

The most common form of slave trade is debt bondage, where people are forced (or tricked) to work in return for loans. In the U.S., most slaves are women and children forced into the sex industry: 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked in the U.S. each year, according to SlaveryFootprint.org.

The index measures by country the number of enslaved citizens, and ranks nations between 1 and 160 – 1 being the worst, 160 the best.

What are the findings?

Map from the Global Slavery Index.

According to the Index, ranking at 1 is the African nation of Mauritania, with 140,000 – 160,000 enslaved out of a population of only 3.8 million. Most of these slaves are chattel slaves, meaning their slave status is passed through generations. Mauritania is followed by Haiti (where child slavery is common), Pakistan (bonded labor, child labor), India (slavery of all forms), and Nepal (forced labor).

In terms of the highest absolute number of slaves, India ranks first with between 13,300,000 and 14,700,000 people enslaved. That’s almost half of the total 29 million in one country. Following is China with about 3 million slaves, and Pakistan with about 2 million.

While the U.K., Ireland, and Iceland tie in last at a rank of 160, even these countries have slaves – the U.K., for example, has over 4,000. Even the United States, ranking at 134, has anywhere between 57,000 and 63,000 total.

What can be done?

Modern slavery is a 32 billion dollar a year industry, according to the Not For Sale Campaign, which makes it especially difficult to combat. Due to a culture of massive consumption, the demand for raw goods means American lifestyle supports slavery overseas.

The publication of the first ever Global Slavery Index is a big step toward conquering it. By identifying the countries where the issue is largest, the Walk Free Foundation hopes to bring attention to the human exploitation that is modern slavery, and hopefully tackle it systematically now the the data is available to the public.

Anti-slavery campaigns include End Slavery Now, End It Movement, Not For Sale, and ATEST: The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking.

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Jennifer Markert