Since 1995, more than 50,000 people have been freed from conditions of slavery in Brazil © 123RF
Since 1995, more than 50,000 people have been freed from conditions of slavery in Brazil © 123RF

Modern slavery: the supply chain week in numbers

posted by Paul Simpson
20 January 2017

The fight against the scourge goes on across the world – here we crunch the numbers on developments in Brazil, Mauritania, Qatar and other nations.


The amount the Brazilian government must pay 125 farm workers who were treated as slaves after a landmark ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The workers in the northern Brazilian state of Para did not receive pay, food or shelter between 1988 and 2000 and only escaped farm security guards after a government raid. UN official Antonio Carlos Rosa said Brazil’s leaders should go further and give land to the poor: “Distributing land to rural people is an effective way to break the vicious cycle that makes people vulnerable to forced labour”. More than 50,000 people have been freed from conditions of slavery in Brazil since 1995, but the country’s political and economic crisis has hindered progress on this issue in the past two years. 

4 January 2017

The date on which Qatar passed a law modifying a law that was supposed to end the ‘kafala’ labour system in which migrant labourers could not change jobs or leave the country without their sponsor’s permission. The original law, which came into effect in December, was designed, the Qatari government said, “to ensure workers’ rights are respected across the entire labour pathway.” It stipulated that migrant workers could apply to the Ministry of Interior for an exit permit as long as they informed their employer. The law issued by the Emir on 4 January says that workers will still need permission from their employers or sponsors before applying to the ministry. If the employer or sponsor objects, the application can then be judged by a special exit permit grievances committee. Qatar has a population of 2.6m – 90% of whom weren’t born there.


The minimum percentage of women working in 743 spinning mills in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu who are under the age of 14, according to a report by the India Committee of the Netherlands. These mills produce the yarn that is used in garment factories in India, Bangladesh and China that supply Western brands and retailers. Their research also showed that nearly half of the mills operated a so-called ‘Sumangali scheme’ which withholds a significant proportion of women’s salaries until their contract expired. The authors called on brands and retailers to make their supply chains more transparent and involve workers rights organisations to improve monitoring.


The year in which the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was signed by President Bill Clinton. It has been renewed since under Republican and Democratic presidents – most recently in 2013 – but it will need renewing again this year. A cornerstone of the US federal government’s anti-slavery strategy, it has been regarded as a bipartisan law that everyone can agree on and its renewal will be a crucial test of President Donald Trump’s commitment to the fight against slavery.

75 years

The age of Spanish composer and viol player Jordi Savall who has composed a show called The Routes Of Slavery. The show, which was presented in Brussels earlier this month, uses music and readings (from, among others, Aristotle, Martin Luther King and Wole Soyinka) to track 400 years of slavery. Musicians from Mali, Madagascar, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Venezuela took part. Savall takes his show to Hamburg and Lisbon this spring.


The proportion of American consumers who said, in a Harris poll, that they would stop buying beds or cotton products if they found they had been made using forced or child labour. The poll was commissioned by Applied DNA Sciences, which uses DNA to track cotton through the supply chain and detect substitute fibres from countries that use forced labour.


The year in which Mauritania passed a fourth law abolishing slavery. Although the act features tough penalties – 20 years in jail for owning them – it doesn’t seem much more effective than previous laws. The Global Slavery index estimates that 43,000 ­– or 1% – of the population work in conditions of slavery, other sources say the real figure could be 20 times as high. Yet Biram Dah Abeid, who was freed by his former master and has been imprisoned for his campaigning against slavery, says: “In Mauritania, sharia law supersedes the constitution and any ratification of an international treaty on slavery. That’s why perpetrators are rarely if ever imprisoned.”

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