Articles / Rubric: Global

21st-Century Slaves
December - January 2014 | Global

To those living in developed countries, slavery seems a thing of the past, even if it was still around in the century before last. But the fact is that about 30 million people worldwide live in modern slavery, with nearly half of them (14 million) in India. Putting emotions aside, one could say this is a very profitable business. The Walk Free Foundation estimates that slave labor generates $32 billion in profits annually for people and organizations.


The Walk Free Foundation, an Australian non-governmental organization whose main goal is a world without slavery released its first Global Slavery Index this past autumn. According to The Walk Free, modern-day slavery includes human trafficking, debt slavery, the exploitation of child labor, forced marriage, and child marriage. Three factors were used in compiling the index: the estimated prevalence of modern slavery in a country, the number of child marriages, and the volume of human trafficking. The latter factor takes into account the influx of slaves into the country as well as the sale of people abroad. The rankings are based on quite authoritative sources, with data on the volume of human trafficking coming from the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report published by the U.S. State Department and data on child marriage from UNICEF. The higher a country’s rank, the more chance a person has being enslaved, while the lower the rank, the more likely it is that the issue has been fully eradicated or eradicated to the maximum possible. The situation was analyzed across 162 countries in 2013.

Indisputably leading the rating in total number of slaves was India, where nearly 14 million people live in debt bondage or forced labor. Most of these Indians are exploited within the country and not abroad, which can in large part be attributed to remnants of the caste system in Indian society. Additionally, there is a fairly large inflow of unskilled labor from Nepal and Bhutan, some of whom become victims of unscrupulous employers. And emigrants from Bangladesh working in India illegally have the highest risk of becoming slave laborers.

After India, two other Asian countries have high numbers of people living in slavery: China (2.9 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million). Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Bangladesh occupy fourth through tenth places. These countries collectively make up 76% of all the slavery worldwide today.

But a more indicative number than the number of slaves in a country is their percentage of a population. Mauritania is the worst off, with nearly 4% of the 3.4 million population living in slavery. According to the UN, the proportion of slaves in this country is actually much higher, at 10–20%. The history of slavery in Mauritania has strong
roots, since it was the last country to outlaw slavery in 1981. Only in 2007 did it become a crime for a person to own another person. In fact, many Mauritians still carry the status of slave hereditarily. The top ten countries with the highest concentration of slavery include: Haiti, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Cote d?Ivoire, Gambia, and Gabon.

According to the Index’s creators, developed European countries have the lowest numbers of slave laborers and child marriages in the world. Those with the fewest slavery issues were Spain, Ireland, and the UK. However, this does not mean that there are no people in these countries who could be called slaves. Immigrants smuggled into Europe who are forced into one job or another also fall under the category of modern slave. In the UK, for example, estimates range from 4,200 to 4,600 for such people, and in Ireland between 300 and 340 people. Meaning the only country to be practically without slavery is Spain, where fewer than 100 people match the description of a modern slave.

Text: Olga Irisova


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