More than 40 million people are enslaved globally, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index published by the Walk Free Foundation (WFF) released on July 19.

An estimated 24.9 million are enslaved in situations involving forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriages, with 71 percent of the enslaved being female and 29 percent male. These are considered conservative estimates, WFF said.

Modern-day slavery, also known as human trafficking, takes many forms, including forced labor, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, debt bondage and the sale or exploitation of children (including child soldiers).

“In the past five years, 89 million people experienced some form of modern slavery for periods of time ranging from a few days to the whole five years,” the report stated. “These estimates are conservative, given the gaps in existing data in key regions such as the Arab States and also exclusions of critical forms of modern slavery, such as recruitment of children by armed groups and organ trafficking, due to lack of data.”

Oppressive governments and nations or regions experiencing conflict – situations in which human rights are not promoted and protected – generally correspond to higher instances of trafficking.

Trafficking is most pervasive in North Korea, with an estimated 104.6 trafficking victims per 1,000 population, followed by Eritrea (93), Burundi (40), the Central African Republic (22.3), Afghanistan (22.2), Mauritania (21.4), South Sudan (20.5), Pakistan (16.8), Cambodia (16.8) and Iran (16.2).

Victims of trafficking are found worldwide, even in high-income nations that are active in policies and initiatives working to end modern-day slavery.

“Even in countries with seemingly strong laws and systems, there are critical gaps in protections for groups, such as irregular migrants, the homeless, workers in the shadow or gig economy and certain minorities,” the report said. “These gaps, which are being actively exploited by criminals, need urgent attention from governments.”

One of the ways that trafficking is indirectly supported by people living in higher-income nations is through an estimated $354 million spent annually importing products connected to trafficking.

The top five products “at-risk” for involving modern-day slaves in the supply and/or production chains are computers and mobile phones ($200.1 billion annually), clothing ($127.7 billion), seafood ($12.9 billion), cocoa ($3.6 billion) and sugar cane ($2.1 billion).

“Modern slavery impacts on all of us, from the food we consume to the goods we purchase,” WFF emphasized. “It is everyone’s responsibility to address and eliminate this crime everywhere it occurs.”

The full report is available here. An executive summary is available here.

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