«Modern slavery is a crime that affects all countries globally»

In 2017, the Walk Free Foundation and the International Labour Organization (ILO), together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), developed the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. Their analysis concludes an estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children were victims of modern slavery on any given day in 2016.

It is a confronting reality that even in the present day, men, women and children all over the world remain victims of modern slavery. They are bought and sold in public markets, forced to marry against their will and provide labour under the guise of “marriage,” forced to work inside clandestine factories on the promise of a salary that is often withheld, or on fishing boats where men and boys toil under threats of violence. They are forced to work on construction sites, in stores, on farms, or in homes as maids. Labour extracted through force, coercion, or threats produces some of the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the footballs we kick. The minerals that men, women, and children have been made to extract from mines find their way into cosmetics, electronics, and cars, among many other products.

This is modern slavery. It is widespread and pervasive, often unacknowledged, and its extent was previously believed to be unknowable. In 2017, the Walk Free Foundation and the International Labour Organization (ILO), together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), developed the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, which provides the best available data and information about the scale and regional distribution of modern slavery. These estimates provide the starting point for this report, the Global Slavery Index. The national estimates presented here were calculated by the Walk Free Foundation on the basis of a predictive model that accounted for individual and country-level risk factors and resulting prevalence estimates were then adjusted to ensure regional totals were aligned with the regional totals in the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.

An analysis of the national estimates in this Global Slavery Index confirms that modern slavery is a crime that affects all countries globally, including, perhaps surprisingly, highly developed countries. While an understanding of prevalence is critical to formulating sound policy responses to modern slavery, equally important is building our understanding of what is driving prevalence. For this reason, the national prevalence estimates are analysed in the context of results of the Vulnerability Model, which provides important context for understanding the national results.

In this chapter, we also consider the important issue of government responses to modern slavery. The Government Response Index provides a comparable measure of the steps being taken by 181 countries across 104 indicators of good practice. An analysis of these findings confirms that while there has been important progress made since the publication of the last Global Slavery Index in 2016, there are still critical gaps and responses to them need to be developed.

Overall, our findings confirm that modern slavery remains a critical issue for all countries. Just as responding to environmental concerns cannot be the task of one country alone, responding to modern slavery is a challenge that requires commitment and effort from all countries.

What does the data tell us about modern slavery?

It is widely acknowledged that measuring modern slavery is a difficult undertaking, not least because no single source provides suitable and reliable data on all forms of modern slavery. In developing the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, the Walk Free Foundation and the ILO adopted a methodology that combined survey research involving face-to-face interviews with more than 71,000 people in 53 local languages with administrative data on victims of trafficking who had been assisted by the IOM. An estimate of forced labour imposed by state authorities was derived from validated sources and systematic review of comments from the ILO supervisory bodies with regard to the ILO Conventions on forced labour.

An estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children were victims of modern slavery on any given day in 2016. Of these, 24.9 million people were in forced labour and 15.4 million people were living in a forced marriage. Women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 percent of victims. Modern slavery is most prevalent in Africa, followed by the Asia and the Pacific region.

Although these are the most reliable estimates of modern slavery to date, we know they are conservative as significant gaps in data remain. The current Global Estimates do not cover all forms of modern slavery; for example, organ trafficking, child soldiers, or child marriage that could also constitute forced marriage are not able to be adequately measured at this time. Further, at a broad regional level there is high confidence in the estimates in all but one of the five regions. Estimates of modern slavery in the Arab States are affected by substantial gaps in the available data. Given this is a region that hosts 17.6 million migrant workers, representing more than one-tenth of all migrant workers in the world and one in three workers in the Arab States, and one in which forced marriage is reportedly widespread, the current estimate is undoubtedly a significant underestimate.

Notwithstanding these critical data gaps, the 2018 Global Slavery Index presents national-level estimates for 167 countries based on the proportion of the population that is estimated to be in some form of modern slavery.

The 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery are 

  1. North Korea 
  2. Eritrea 
  3. Burundi 
  4. the Central African Republic 
  5. Afghanistan 
  6. Mauritania 
  7. South Sudan 
  8. Pakistan 
  9. Cambodia 
  10. Iran  

An analysis of the ten countries with highest prevalence indicates a connection between modern slavery and two major external drivers- highly repressive regimes and conflict. As the data in this Global Slavery Index confirm, several of the countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery – the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Pakistan – also score above 90 percent in the Vulnerability Model, which measures systemic, individual, and environmental risk factors in 167 countries.  The interplay between modern slavery and risk factors is discussed further below.

Despite a change in methodology, Mauritania and Cambodia remained in the top 10 in 2018. Mauritania continues to host a high proportion of people living in modern slavery. The national survey confirmed the existence of forced marriage and forced labour. Forced labour was found to occur in different sectors, to both males and females across different age groups and geographic regions. The practice is entrenched in Mauritanian society with slave status being inherited, and deeply rooted in social castes and the wider social system. Those owned by masters often have no freedom to own land, cannot claim dowries from their marriages nor inherit property or possessions from their families.  Despite improvements to legislation in 2015, which strengthens the provisions on slavery, allows third parties to bring cases on behalf of slavery victims, and establishes special tribunals to investigate slavery crimes,  progress in Mauritania remains slow. There are reports that police and the judiciary are reluctant to implement the new legislation and that several cases of slavery have been reclassified as lesser crimes, although the ILO Committee of Experts notes some positive steps in recent times. In Cambodia, men, women, and children are known to be exploited in various forms of modern slavery – including forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage. While the prevalence of forced sexual exploitation and forced begging in the country has been reported previously, the national survey also pointed to forced labour in manufacturing, farming, construction and domestic work. In Cambodia, the government has been slow to improve their response to modern slavery.

To learn more about modern slavery see https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/

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