The world is experiencing refugee crises unprecedented for more than half a century. In fact, not since the global order was upended by the near civilizational collapse of World War II have we experienced such widespread population displacements. The widespread instability of these desperate populations has resulted in a surge for modern slavery. The rise in the numbers of modern slavery is the dirty secret of our modern era that not enough people are talking about.
In 2017 a widespread, but temporary, uproar was caused when CNN published a video of a secret slave auction in Libya. These victims were those who did not make it far enough to the shores of the Mediterranean to risk the sea crossing to Europe.
The Global Slavery Index reports 40.3 million people were caught in slavery in 2016. Frequently these numbers are debated as the status of slavery is a secretive business. Among other organizations that track the figure however, there are few who place the total number of people living in slavery below 40 million worldwide.
- 71% of the world’s slaves today are female
- Asia accounts for 2/3 of the slave trade’s victims today
- As a percentage of the population, Europe has the highest prevalence of slavery
- People trafficking is the third largest global criminal industry, behind drugs and weapons trafficking
The Walk Free Foundation, who publishes the Global Slavery Index, defines modern slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception”
The seafood industry is the world’s leading source for holding slave victims. Victims are taken to sea and will frequently not see the land for years. Escape attempts can result in being thrown overboard to drown.
The cocoa and sugarcane industries have large proportions of slave labor. Sex trafficking and forced begging round out the top five of the world’s leading areas where slaves are used.
Refugees seeking to escape violent situations in their homelands are frequently targeted by sex traffickers. Entire families are targeted by gangs and militias if they refuse to hand over a daughter. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation.
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The modern slave trade is fueled by the most vulnerable elements of our society. This includes minorities and socially excluded groups. In South Asia Anti-Slavery International estimates that 80-98% of the slave population are from the “untouchable” classes.
We have grown accustomed to seeing the world through a political lens. Wars, conflicts, famines, climate change, and border walls are what we hear about on the news reports. At the weakest end of these issues however are the people who society has forgotten and their lives have become a commodity in the crisis.
- Modern Slavery Info Guide (Council on Foreign Relations)
- What Is Modern Slavery (US State Department)
- Modern Slaver Is Real and 40 Million People Are Trapped In It (Time)