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UK sets world standard with Slavery Act, global survey says

03 June 2016


Walk Free: Actor Russell Crowe speaks at the Global Slavery Index Launch in London on Tuesday

Walk Free: Actor Russell Crowe speaks at the Global Slavery Index Launch in London on Tuesday

THE UK is at the forefront of the world’s battle against modern slavery, a comprehensive survey by an anti-slavery charity has found.

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 45.8 million slaves today, and although 11,700 of those are believed to be in Britain, last year’s Modern Slavery Act is the standard all countries should be aiming for, the report states.

The Index has been compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, which partnered both the Church of England and the Vatican to set up the Global Freedom Network in 2014 (News, 21 March 2014).

The nations with the greatest number of slaves include India (estimated at 18 million), China (3.3 million), Pakistan (2.1 million), and Bangladesh (1.5 million).

The estimated 1.1 million slaves in North Korea amount to 4.3 per cent of the nation’s population — approximately one in every 23 people — making North Koreans proportionally the world’s most enslaved people.

The report ends by urging governments of the world’s wealthiest nations to follow Britain’s lead in enacting laws to hold to account organisations that include slaves in their supply chains. In the year since the Modern Slavery Act was introduced, more than 100 companies have submitted reports on how they are safeguarding their supply chains from forced labour.

The chairman and founder of the Walk Free Foundation, the Australian mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest, said that the Index was being launched in London to highlight the work done by the British government.

“The Modern Slavery Act led the world, and we are seeing this having a real impact in how companies and countries behave. We feel very strongly that if this leadership is adopted by the nine other major economies of the world then the world would be a much safer place.”

Most of the world’s slaves are in Asia, the Index suggests, and involved in food, clothing, and other cheap produce.

While Europe has fewer slaves than any other region, it is notable as both a “source and destination” of sexual exploitation. The migrant and refugee crisis might add to this problem, as both groups are “highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse”.

Data from the International Organisation for Migration reveals that the average trafficked person in Europe is 32 years old, was tricked by false promises of employment, and is most likely a sex worker.

In response to the survey, the buildings research and training organisation BRE has said that it is creating an ethical-labour standard to help firms in the construction industry verify that their “complex international supply chains” are free of slaves. More than 120 companies around the world have signed up to help test the new framework, BRE also said.

The number of slaves in the world has gone up from 35.8 million in 2015, the Global Slavery Index states, although the report’s authors suggest that this is more likely to be because of improvements in methodology than a surge in modern slavery.

The figures were gathered through representative, random surveys in 25 countries, and interviews with 28,000 people. The results were then extrapolated to countries with similar risks and prevalence of slavery.

The report concludes: “Modern slavery is a hidden crime that affects every country in the world. In 2015-2016, modern slavery was found in many industries including the Thai fishing, Uzbek and Turkmenistan cotton, and the Qatari construction industries.

“It was identified in the domestic households of diplomats, in Islamic State-controlled areas, and in areas that have experienced natural disasters, such as Nepal, and environmental destruction, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It impacts on all of us, from the food we consume and the goods we purchase. It is our responsibility to tackle this crime.”

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