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Slavery generates $150bn in profits globally

If you think slavery is a thing of the past - think again. An estimated 40.3 million people around the world are victims of exploitation under conditions of modern slavery, including sexual slavery.

The definitions of slavery, according to advocacy group Anti-Slavery International, includes people who are forced to work under a penalty of some kind. It also includes those who are working under threats of violence or an indentured system where a business owner forces men, women or children to pay off some kind of debt.

Of the more than 40 million people who regarded as slaves, around 24.9 million work in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing.

Source: Global Slavery Index 2018

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 9 240 000 people in Africa operate under conditions of modern slavery, accounting for around 23% of the global estimate. In Africa, the most common way that modern slavery victims are exploited is through forced marriages.

Although the Asia-Pacific region has the highest number of people who are forced to work under conditions of modern slavery per capita, Africa leads the world with 7.6 per 1 000 people who are forced into labour and exploited.

Source: Global Slavery Index 2018

Eritrea tops the list of African countries, with Anti-Slavery International reporting that 93 out of every 1000 people are forced into work.

More populous countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria have a far greater number of forced labourers or slaves. In Nigeria an estimated 1 386 000 people have been forced into labour of some sort, while in the DRC the number is around 1 045 000.

Where countries are failing

According to the Measurement Action Freedom report, a major challenge faced by victims of slavery and exploitation is the lack of support services. Of the 183 countries assessed, only 88 train police and labour inspectors, and immigration, health and education officials to help identify and assist victims of slavery, trafficking and exploitation.

Of the countries in the report, 133 have not criminalised forced marriages and 146 do not address the risks of exploitation in business supply chains. Only 31 of the 183 countries have ratified the International Labour Organisation’s 2014 Forced Labour Protocol.

The Global Value Chain

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that forced labour generates about $150 billion in profits for the private economy globally. The majority of these profits are generated in the Asia- Pacific region, followed by developed countries and the European Union block.

Source: International Labour Organisation

Developed countries register the highest profit per victim of forced labour. The report shows that each victim of slavery or forced labour in developed nations earns the company or operation about $34 800 per year. In the Asia-Pacific region economies register roughly a third of this, with operational earnings of $15 000 per person. In the African region, slaves and forced labourers only earn their perpetrators around around $3 900 annually.

Suppressing forced labour

So far the ILO Forced Labour Protocol has been ratified by 178 countries. Of the nine countries who have not yet ratified the convention, only three are developed economies - China, the US and South Korea. The other countries are Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, Marshall Islands, Palau, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Source: International Labour Organisation

According to Anti-Slavery International, it is not enough to merely combat slavery - the factors that make people vulnerable to exploitation must also be addressed. One of these factors is climate change. According to the organisation, people moving to new and unfamiliar areas are vulnerable and at particular risk for exploitation, both within their country of origin and outside its borders.

"Experts are more convinced than ever that climate change is rapidly becoming the biggest driver of forced migration. This in turn is leading to greater numbers of people becoming vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery," the organisation says.

According to a report by the International Organisation for Migration, both sudden-onset and slow-onset climate disasters lead to an increased risk of trafficking and slavery.

Advocacy groups say that a holistic approach is needed if modern slavery is to be reduced or eliminated. Factors like climate change, displacement, conflict, gender roles, religion and culture can contribute to trafficking and slavery. Understanding how these intersect makes it possible to start addressing the underlying risk factors that make people vulnerable to exploitation, decreasing the number of people affected by slavery and reducing its impact, while promoting economic and human rights for all.

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