Modern slavery: Number of enslaved increases by 10 million over five years

World Today

The number of people under modern slavery increased by 10 million people globally over the last five years, according to researchers from Geneva.

Data gathered by the UN’s International Organization for Migration, the International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation human rights group show nearly 50 million people endure modern slavery conditions on any given day.

The research found at least 27.6 million people in situations of forced labor and 22 million in forced marriages.

No country is immune from the scourge of modern slavery, the researchers note, as more than half of all forced labor and a quarter of all forced marriages were reported in upper-middle income or high-income countries.

Forced labor and forced marriage define modern slavery

Forced labor, the biggest component of modern slavery, is defined as “work that is undertaken both under the threat of any penalty and is involuntary.”

Around 86% of forced labor is imposed by private sector industries, while 14% of forced labor is state-imposed, with nearly one in eight of those cases, or 3.3 million, involving children.

23% of the forced labor found in the private sector was found to involve forced commercial sexual exploitation.

Forced marriage refers to situations where a person has been forced into marriage without giving their consent. Over two-thirds of those forced to marry are female.

The report found nearly 30 million people in modern slavery live in Asia and the Pacific, while 6.4 million live in Europe and Central Asia.

COVID, compounding crises led to spike in coercive labor

COVID-19 was one of the recent drivers of an increase in modern slavery, the report notes. The pandemic compounded already dire situations that led to more forced labor.

Researchers say the economic crisis from the pandemic forced more people into debt, while the virus put more workers at greater health risks. The report also notes that because of the urgent demand for PPE, some companies adopted more coercive practices to rush manufacturing.

Armed conflicts also exacerbated modern slavery, while climate change forced the displacement of more people, putting them at risk of coercive practices.

Reversing the trends of modern slavery

To end forced labor, the report calls for extending social protections for all workers and their families, including improving the socio-economic vulnerabilities that lead to forced labor.

Along with calling for the liberation of people forced into work, the report also calls for access to compensation for people freed from labor, to help in their recovery.

The report also says legislation and policy is needed to address the women and girls disproportionally affected by forced marriages, including gender-responsive social protection mechanisms.