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Study Finds Nearly 30 Million People Living in Slavery Worldwide


An eye-opening study from the Walk Free Foundation has found that there are 29.8 million people living in slavery today. The non-profit organization, which released its first annual global slavery index earlier today, defined slavery as including human trafficking, forced labor or indebted servitude, forced marriage, and the sale or exploitation of children. Reuters reports:

It found that 10 countries accounted for 76 percent of the 29.8 million people living in slavery – India, ChinaPakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, RussiaThailand, the Democratic Republic of CongoMyanmar and Bangladesh….

Researcher Kevin Bales said he hoped the index, the first annual report to monitor slavery globally, would raise public awareness as numbers were at an all-time high and it would increase pressure on governments to take more action.

In India alone there are roughly 14 million people in slavery, almost half of the worldwide total. That means that (slightly more than) 1 of every 100 Indians is living under conditions of slavery. Given that researchers found corruption to be the foremost driver of slavery, it’s no surprise that India finds itself atop this list.

But India may not even be the worst offender. In Mauritania, West Africa, more than 4 percent of the 3.8 million citizens are slaves. As a reference point, 12 percent of the US population was enslaved on the eve of the civil war. And while the West performs comparatively well according to the report, the authors are careful to note that even high-performers like Britain and Iceland also have slaves within their borders. Despite more than a century of efforts to stamp it out, this problem refuses to go away.

[Image of men working on palm oil plantation courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Tom

    There’s two ways to look at this: less than half a percent of the world’s population is enslaved. This is a better ratio than at just about any time after we moved out of a hunter-gatherer society.
    On the other hand, this is more people enslaved than live in the entire state of Texas.
    In other words, this does not mean that society is terrible. It does mean there’s a lot of work to be done.

  • lukelea

    Iceland? How do they hide it?

    • f1b0nacc1

      Sex slaves, hidden as ‘sex workers’ in whorehouses. If you have ever been to Iceland (an experience I strongly recommend), you see a huge number of them…

  • jeburke

    Whatever the number, it’s terrible, but isn’t it a bit of hyperbole to contend that “forced marriage” is equal to chattel slavery? It’s a bum deal, to be sure, but when you don’t make distinctions, you lose your way.

  • Atanu Maulik

    the authors are careful to note that even high-performers like Britain and Iceland also have slaves within their borders______Let me guess. They are among the followers of a prophet who went to heaven in a winged horse. Right ?

  • Ethan Rosen

    Worth noting that in Mauritania, slavery was actually legal until 2007

  • Boritz

    This article is very troubling. It takes focus off of the United States where focus should remain 24/7 forever.

    • gerald

      Yes, the continued problem with human trafficking indulged in by criminals in the United States (i.e. Ariel Castro) makes moving the problem of slavery in India right to the very bottom of the list! let us continue to lash the backs of the 99.99% of the Americans totally uninvolved in this trade, and forbidden by law to personally intervene in the matter themselves. POW! POW! POW! Let the blood and flecks of flesh FLY!

      /sarc (if it wasn’t obvious, and a hint of what boritz needs to do to keep from getting mistaken as a troll)

      If one was REALLY smart, one would acknowledge the 80/20 law and get good immediate returns going after the ones with the biggest number of slaves (rather than biggest percentage of the population). But hey, if the point is to shame people instead of actually, you know, SOLVE the problem, you can just ignore me.

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