SEATTLE — No country is exempt from the scourge of slavery today. As people around the world work to improve the lives of millions through initiatives against global poverty, it is critical to think about how slavery contributes to the cycle of poverty. Here are ten facts you should know about slavery today:
Slavery has many names, but all of them define the practice of forcing people into work through mental, physical, sexual, or verbal abuse. Enslaved people of all ages and races are controlled by their “master” and often held against their will. Today, slavery looks like human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, illegal marriage practices, or the exploitation or migrant workers.
- No country is exempt from slavery today; every country is involved in some form of modern slavery. Countries are either a source, transit or destination country for slaves and people all around the world purchase things made by slaves. In the United States, the Global Slavery Index estimates there are around 60,000 people trapped in modern slavery.
- The estimates vary depending on the source, but the Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 45.8 million enslaved people in 2016. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 21 million slaves of forced labor. What’s important to keep in mind is that slavery is often an invisible crime difficult to track. Slaves are primarily from marginalized, oppressed populations, from communities where people might not receive registration from birth or have their oppression documented, making an accurate estimate of the number of people enslaved nearly impossible.
- Slavery today generates over $150 billion dollars per year in profits. This is equal to almost $20 for every person existing in the world today, almost three times the annual profit of Apple and more than fifty times the annual budgets for countries such as Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Mali and Laos.
- Slavery is not just sponsored by individuals or corporations; it can also be sponsored by governments. In Uzbekistan, the government requires forced labor to pick its annual cotton harvest. This affects more than one million people.
- Slavery is most prevalent in Africa, South Asia and Eurasia. According to the Global Slavery Index, the ten countries with the highest amount of slavery per percentage of the population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar.
- When looking at slavery in absolute numbers, the top-ten countries are India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Thailand.
- More women are slaves than men. This is due to the prevalence of women as victims of sex trafficking and illegal prostitution. About 4.5 million people are estimated to be trapped in some form of sexual slavery around the world.
- More than likely, we, as consumers, own a product made by slaves. If the cotton of our clothes was harvested in Uzbekistan, if our jewelry or electronics include minerals from conflict regions in Africa, if our seafood was sourced from Thailand, the Philippines or Indonesia, if our clothes were made in sweatshops from South or Southeast Asia, it is very likely that slave labor went into making the product.
- Migrant workers and indigenous populations are some of the people most vulnerable to slavery. Traffickers take advantage of populations governments are least likely to help. For migrant workers, their government is less able to support them overseas. For indigenous populations, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, their rights are not recognized as equal to those of other citizens, so they are less likely to receive assistance and support.
- There are ways the average consumer can help. While slavery today has a scope difficult to fully comprehend, there is a lot the average consumer can do to advocate slavery-ending legislation and make slave-owning less profitable. Buying fair trade, conflict-free and child-labor-free items is a start. Organizations such as Free2Work, Slave Free Chocolate, Raise Hope for Congo and the U.S. State Department provide a plethora of information to help consumers guide their purchases.
With the combined efforts of international, national and local organizations, in addition to an increase in consumer awareness, there is hope that we will be able to help free the millions trapped in slavery today.
– Priscilla McCelvey
Photo: Google Images