As viewers contemplate the current re-tread of the famed “Roots” mini-series, which delves into the history of slavery in Africa and in the Americas before the Civil War, there is news that slavery is hardly a bygone scourge in the world. According to current estimates, there are nearly 50 million modern slaves: 60% of these live in Asia.
A human rights group released its global slavery index today, which tracks the number of people living in "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception." These include forced labor in farming, fishing and manufacturing, commercial sex work, and forced marriage.
"Governments need to look more closely at illicit labor recruitment, crack down on the illegal companies that provide conduit in which people end up in slavery, and penalize the companies and individuals that are using bonded labor, either directly or in their supply chains," the group said in a statement. "At the same time, it is important that we tackle the conditions that drive labor migration by creating opportunities within home countries."
Five countries in Asia have the highest percentages of slaves: North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar. The largest numbers of slaves in the absolute sense is held by India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, in respective order, among 167 countries. Among the reasons for enslavement are onerous loan practices, demand for labor at little to no cost, and organized human trafficking enterprises.
The Walk Free Foundation, based in Australia and founded by Nicole and Andrew Forrest, released the report today that estimates that there are currently are at least 45.8 million modern slaves. Of these, two-thirds are in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asian continent has the largest number of slaves: 26.6 million, or 58% of the total.
The Global Slavery Index 2016 noted that the hermetic communist dictatorship of North Korea holds first place among enslaved nations. In North Korea, the network of forced labor is increasingly evident. Also, thousands of North Korean women are sold as sex slaves to China and neighboring countries. At least 4.37% of North Koreans are enslaved.
In Uzbekistan, the government continues to force its citizens to pick cotton every year.
In Qatar, 30,000 of its 2.3 million inhabitants are enslaved. The dominant form of enslavement is in the construction industry, especially in the building of infrastructure related to the 2022 World Cup. The majority of these slaves-migrants, 99.4% male, comes from India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
India and China in the lead
In absolute terms, however, the record for the largest number of slaves is held by India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. India is at the top with approximately 18,350,000 slaves, followed by China with 3.39 million; Pakistan 2.13 million; Bangladesh with 1.53 million; and Uzbekistan with 1.23 million. India’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report.
Interestingly, the Global Slavery Index notes that the former British colony of Hong Kong is worse than China overall. According to the Index, Hong Kong offers little protection to persons vulnerable to slavery (children, women, migrants), while there are rumors that "there are government policies and practices that facilitate slavery."
“I believe in the critical role of leaders in government, business and civil society,” said Andrew Forrest, the billionaire chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, in a statement. He is the largest shareholder of iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group. "Businesses that don’t actively look for forced labor within their supply chains are standing on a burning platform," Forrest said. For Forrest, while scholars note that the three reasons that fuel the slavery business: the search for lower production costs, organized crime trafficking, and exploitation of man by man, can be addressed through laws, business also must take a leading role. He called on businesses to exhibit greater transparency regarding the places and modes of production.
The survey, which was based on 42,000 interviews conducted in 25 countries, found that Asian countries were home to nearly 60 percent of the world’s modern slaves. India was the country with the highest number, 18.3 million, while North Korea had the highest proportion, with 4.3 percent of the population thought to be enslaved, the survey found.
The nearly 46 million people estimated to be enslaved represents an increase of 28 percent from the group’s last survey, though it says that is likely due to better data collection and research methods. The group said progress had been made since its last report, with all countries in Asia except North Korea now having laws criminalizing some forms of modern slavery.