50 million people in Modern Slavery, says The UN

50 million people in Modern Slavery

A study by the UN shows that around 50 million people are still trapped in modern slavery.  

A new UN analysis shows that the number of forced labor or forced marriage victims has substantially increased in recent years, totaling 49.6 million in 2021. This equates to approximately one out of every 150 individuals worldwide being subjected to modern enslavement. 

"It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights" — ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.     

Despite the UN's efforts and deadlines to end all forms of modern slavery, the number has increased by 10 million between 2016 and 2021 with women and children being the most susceptible groups.  

An Insight into Modern Slavery  

Modern slavery transcends racial, cultural, and religious boundaries, impacting nearly all nations around the world both in terms of social and economic sense. In upper-middle or high-income nations, forced labor accounts for more than half of all cases, while forced marriages account for 25% of all cases. 

modern slavery terminology

Image source: ILO

Forced Labor:  

Forced labor constitutes a significant bulk of all the many forms of modern enslavement. The current estimate stands at around 28 million forced laborers, and the private sector is largely responsible for that. According to ILO data—  

  • 17.3 million of the 27.6 million people tied to forced labor are victimized in the private sector.  
  • 6.3 million are victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation, of which nearly four out of every five victims are women. 
  • 3.9 million people are subjected to state-mandated forced labor.  
  • Children make up 12% of all forced laborers, with over 50% of them engaged in commercial sexual exploitation. 

The data also highlights how immigrants are over three times more susceptible to forced labor and human trafficking—owing to unethical and discriminatory hiring procedures.  

So, what exactly does all of this mean?  

The findings are reflective of businesses all over the world operating without providing their employees with the basic necessities, wages, or safety. It gives us a conclusive image of the modern world economy and the presence of slavery across many supply chains to varying degrees. According to ILO officials, the government alone is not enough to rid this inhumane conduct. It would require the effort of everyone— civil societies, employers' groups, labor unions, and global citizens. The solution is possible, but we must all undertake our responsibilities to make that happen. 

Forced Marriage:  

The global estimate for forced marriage victims in 2021 was 22 million, showing a rise of 6.6 million from 2016. The actual count, however, is supposed to be higher, given the number is not inclusive of child marriages (16 years and younger). The study found: 

  • More than 85% of forced marriages were brought about by familial pressure. 
  • In terms of area size, the highest rate is in Asia and the Pacific, with two-thirds or 65% of forced marriages.  
  • In terms of population-area ratio, the frequency is highest in the Arab States, with 4.8 people out of every 1,000 pushed into forced unions.  

Meanwhile, the study has also linked the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change to increase the likelihood of modern slavery. The Covid-19 outbreak and ensuing economic and labor market shock have affected the means of subsistence of millions around the world. The hardest-hit workers are those in the unorganized sector, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. According to ILO, the pandemic's impact on the world's workforce was the largest global catastrophe after the World War II crisis.  

"Modern slavery is the antithesis of sustainable development. Yet, in 2022, it continues to underpin our global economy. It is a man-made problem, connected to both historical slavery and persisting structural inequality. In a time of compounding crises, genuine political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses"— Grace Forrest, Founding Director of Walk Free.  

A global intervention is necessary to make a difference in the fight against modern slavery. Governments, corporations, and consumers must all join hands to bring about systemic change.  

The study Global Estimates of Modern Slavery Forced Labour and Forced Marriage was carried out by the International Labor Organization in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration and the Walk Free Foundation.

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