More than 29 million people across the globe live in conditions of modern-day slavery, according to the first index to quantify the scale of forced labor on a country-by-country basis. Published Thursday by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation, the Global Slavery Index reveals that roughly 10 countries, many of them in Asia, hold nearly 70 percent of the world’s slaves. India topped the list with the highest number of enslaved people—approximately 14 million, or nearly half the total worldwide. China came in second with 2.9 million enslaved while Pakistan, arrived in third place with an estimated 2 million. “The India country study suggests that while this involves the exploitation of some foreign nationals, by far the largest proportion of this problem is the exploitation of Indians citizens within India itself, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labor,” reads the report.
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SLAVES AMONG US
The index, which covers 612 countries, built on statistics provided by the International Labour Organisation, which estimates an enslaved population of 21 million people worldwide. Walk Free took that data further, crunching its own numbers based factors such as the estimated prevalence of modern slavery, the extent of child marriage, and the levels of human trafficking in and out of each country.
The index, which covers 612 countries, built on statistics provided by the International Labour Organisation.
“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent,” Nick Grono, CEOof Walk Free, says in a statement. “This is the first slavery index but it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world. We now know that just ten countries are home to over three quarters of those trapped in modern slavery. These nations must be the focus of global efforts.”
Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index, hopes the foundation’s work will help governments to monitor—and address—this “hidden crime.”
“Most governments don’t dig deeply into slavery for a lot of bad reasons,” Bales says. “There are exceptions, but many governments don’t want to know about people who can’t vote, who are hidden away, and are likely to be illegal anyway. The laws are in place, but the tools and resources and the political will are lacking. And since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The index aims to change that.”
THE PROBLEM WITH INDIA
India, the world’s second most populous country, faces challenges that are especially formidable. Home to 1.2 billion people, India exhibits what the index describes as the “full spectrum” of different forms of modern slavery, from intergenerational bonded labor across various industries to the worst forms of child labor, commercial sex exploitation, and forced and servile marriage.
Bonded child labor, in particular, remains a prevalent practice in the South Indian garment industry.
Bonded child labor, in particular, remains a prevalent practice in the South Indian garment industry. In 2011, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands documented more than 100,000 girls, possibly up to 300,000, who work under exploitative Sumangali schemes in the hope of earning enough money for their future dowries.
“The reality of working under the Sumangali scheme however, stands in sharp contrast to the attractive picture that is presented to the girls and young women during the recruitment process,” reads Captured by Cotton, a report the organizations published to address the issue. “Excessive overwork, low wages, no access to grievance mechanisms or redress, restricted freedom of movement and limited privacy are part and parcel of the working and employment conditions under this scheme.”
Around 80 per cent of girls working in Sumangali schemes in Tamil Nadu work in spinning mills, producing material that is made into clothes for the Indian and international markets.