The 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI) estimates 35.8m people work in some form of modern slavery.
Published by anti-slavery organisation Free the Slaves, the GSI lists 167 countries on the basis of the number of people enslaved per capita. Below are 12 offenders from around the world that could well feature in your supply chains.
Affected sectors: Agriculture, domestic service, forced marriage, prostitution, begging
Accounting for 4% of its population, the scourge of slavery is embedded in the West African country’s culture. Ethnic power rests with the White Moors, descendants of Berber Arab settlers who have enslaved black ethnic groups (Black Moors) along the Senegal River for 1,000 years. The GSI notes: “Slave status is inherited generation to generation and is deeply rooted in social castes and the wider social system.”
Affected sectors: Cotton
Modern slavery is actually government policy in this Central Asian country. Each year, its government forces hundreds of thousands of people, including school children, to pick cotton for two months. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that 1.2m people – almost 4% of the Uzbek population – are subjected to modern slavery during the annual cotton harvest.
Affected sectors: Construction, domestic service
Migrant workers, mainly from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, are routinely subjected to extortionate recruitment fees, illegal confiscation of passports, withholding of salaries, excessive working hours, hazardous workplaces, unhygienic living conditions, and physical, psychological and sexual abuse from employers. As a result, Germany’s cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki has called for football fans to boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Affected sectors: Brick-making, textiles, domestic service, prostitution, agriculture, mining, begging
India’s problems are handed down from generation to generation, with lower castes and tribes, religious minorities and migrant workers disproportionately affected. In terms of numbers, India is the worst offender globally, with 14m people enslaved.
Affected sectors: Brick-making, agriculture, carpets, coal, cotton, rice, sugar, wheat
Debt bondage is a common practice, particularly in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. It is thought that most of the 4.5m workers in the brick kiln industry in Punjab are bonded labourers.
6. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Affected sectors: Minerals, metals, diamonds
Political instability and civil war have left many citizens vulnerable to modern slavery. There are an estimated 2.6m ‘displaced’ people, mainly in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. The term ‘blood’ or ‘conflict’ diamonds originated in the DRC.
Affected sectors: Fishing, garments, manufacturing, agriculture, prostitution
Thailand is home to many migrant workers, mostly from neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, in the ‘3Ds’ – dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs. Nestlé recently admitted to finding modern slavery in the seafood supply chain there.
Affected sectors: Dried fish, shrimps, textiles, brick-making, bonded labour, forced marriage, prostitution, begging
Bangladesh’s modern slavery practices were exposed in 2013 when the Rana Plaza building collapsed. Even though shops on the lower floors were closed after cracks were discovered in the building, garment factories on the upper floors remained open. More than 1,000 workers were killed in the subsequent collapse. In December 2015, a New York University report found only eight out of the country’s 3,425 garment factories inspected had "remedied [structural and electrical] violations enough to pass a final inspection".
Affected sectors: Construction, agriculture, bonded labour, forced marriage, prostitution, begging, trafficking
The political turmoil in the region and the country’s role as a gateway to Europe and the Middle East make Egypt both a transit point and a destination for refugees. Modern slavery exists in almost all its forms, including the trafficking of Eritrean refugees for ransom.
Affected sectors: Agriculture, textiles, timber, trafficking
A well-known international hub for labour trafficking, Russia is a source, transit point and a destination for victims. In terms of modern slavery, the most common examples are migrant workers in forced labour and the trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation.
Affected sectors: Palm oil, rubber, tobacco, fishing, domestic work
Forced labour in Indonesia is a severe problem. Brokers operate in rural areas, luring adults and children into forced labour on palm oil, rubber and tobacco plantations. Palm oil, for example, is harvested by workers who are trapped on plantations and forced to live in squalor, work excessive hours, subjected to physical abuse and work for little or no pay.
Affected sectors: Construction, agriculture, logging, prostitution
Slave labour is common in the construction industry and agriculture, where workers are trapped in debt bondage. This includes the clearing of land for raising cattle and growing crops. But by the end of 2013, 380 corporations, accounting for 30% of Brazil’s gross national product, had signed up to the National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labour, which publishes a ‘dirty list’ of suppliers with slavery in their supply chains. Brazil has also amended its constitution to allow its government to seize property from beneficiaries of slave labour.