- G20 countries, including India, China, and the United States, contribute significantly to the global modern slavery problem.
- Even developed nations, such as Canada and several European countries, have thousands of people enduring forced labor or forced marriages despite their high levels of economic development and social welfare.
- According to a report by the UN, approximately 50 million people were living in “modern slavery” at the end of 2021, marking an increase of 10 million people in just five years from 2016.
- G20 countries import $468m worth of products annually at risk of forced labor. Global supply chains are intertwined with forced labor, impacting electronics, garments, palm oil, solar panels, and textiles. Demand from higher-income countries contributes to modern slavery.
- Forced labor exists across sectors and supply chains, including fast fashion, seafood, and cocoa production. Most G20 governments fall short in addressing modern slavery, hindering progress towards the UN goal of ending it by 2030. Urgent political will is needed to combat this pervasive issue.
According to a report released by the Walk Free Foundation, a human rights group focusing on modern slavery, the plight of those trapped in forced labor or marriage is being “hidden in plain sight” worldwide.
The report reveals that the world’s 20 wealthiest countries are fueling the problem, accounting for over half of the estimated 50 million individuals living in “modern slavery.”
Six members of the Group of 20 nations have the highest number of people affected, including India with 11 million, followed by China, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey, and the United States.
Shockingly, even countries considered economically developed and with strong social welfare systems, such as Canada and several European nations, still have thousands of people forced to work or marry against their will.
The report emphasizes the need for immediate and stronger actions to combat modern slavery and protect the rights of these individuals.
Increase in modern slavery
In September of last year, a joint report by the UN’s International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration, and Walk Free revealed that by the end of 2021, an estimated 50 million individuals were living in “modern slavery,” with 28 million in forced labor and 22 million in forced marriages. This marked an alarming increase of 10 million people in just five years since 2016.
The recent 2023 report from Walk Free reaffirmed these figures, stating that on any given day in 2021, the numbers remained consistent, with an additional 10 million individuals affected compared to their 2018 index. These statistics highlight the urgent need for continued efforts to address and combat modern slavery on a global scale.
“Modern slavery permeates every aspect of our society,” Walk Free founding director Grace Forrest said in a statement. “It is woven through our clothes, lights up our electronics, and seasons our food,” she said. Noting it is “a mirror held to power, reflecting who in any given society has it and who does not.”
“Modern slavery is hidden in plain sight and is deeply intertwined with life in every corner of the world,” the Walk Free report said.
“Each day, people are tricked, coerced, or forced into exploitative situations that they cannot refuse or leave. Each day, we buy the products or use the services they have been forced to make or offer without realizing the hidden human cost.”
Global supply chains fuel problem
This is most evident in global supply chains, where G20 nations import $468 million US worth of products annually that are considered “at risk” of being produced by forced labor, including electronics, garments, palm oil, solar panels, and textiles, the report said.
It said forced labor occurs in all countries, regardless of income, and is “deeply connected to demand from higher-income countries,” with the production and movement of goods between countries creating complex supply chains, “many of them tainted with forced labor.”
Australia-based Walk Free said its 172-page report and estimates of global slavery in 160 countries draw on thousands of interviews with survivors collected through nationally representative household surveys and its assessments of a nation’s vulnerability.
It said the increase of nearly 10 million people forced to work or marry reflects the impact of compounding crises — “more complex armed conflicts, widespread environmental degradation, assaults on democracy in many countries, a global rollback of women’s rights and the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
These factors have significantly disrupted education and employment, leading to increases in extreme poverty and forced and unsafe migration, “which together heighten the risk of all forms of modern slavery,” the report said.
The countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery at the end of 2021 were North Korea, Eritrea, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, it said.
Child labor in cocoa production
The report stressed that forced labor occurs across many sectors and at every stage of the supply chain. It cited the demands for fast fashion and seafood as spurring forced labor that was hidden deep in those industries, while “the worst forms of child labor are used to farm and harvest the cocoa beans that end up in chocolate.”
And while the United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States were noted for having strong government responses to combat slavery, the report said those improvements were fewer and weaker than required.
“Most G20 governments are still not doing enough to ensure that modern slavery is not involved in the production of goods imported into their countries and within the supply chains of companies they do business with,” it said.
In 2015, one of the UN goals adopted by world leaders was to end modern slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking by 2030. But Walk Free said the significant increase in the number of people living in modern slavery and stagnating government action highlights that this goal is even further from being achieved.
“Walk Free is calling on governments around the world to step up their efforts to end modern slavery on their shores and in their supply chains,” said Forrest, the foundation’s director. “What we need now is political will.”