Nearly 30 million people around the world are living as slaves (modern slavery), according to a new index ranking 162 countries

Slavery: The status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.

Includes slavery-like practices: debt bondage, forced and servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children (including in armed conflict) and descent-based slavery.

(The Slavery Convention (1926) and Supplementary Slavery Convention (1956))

What is modern slavery?

modern-slaveryIn 2013, modern slavery takes many forms, and is known by many names. Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labor, slavery or slavery-like practices (a category that includes debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict) victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied, and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex, or the thrill of domination.

Today some people are still being born into hereditary slavery, a staggering but harsh reality, particularly in parts of West Africa and South Asia. Other victims are captured or kidnapped before being sold or kept for exploitation, whether through ‘marriage’, unpaid labor on fishing boats, or as domestic workers. Others are tricked and lured into situations they cannot escape, with false promises of a good job or an education.

Modern slavery can involve using children in the military, whether as combatants, porters, cooks or for other jobs. The chains of modern slavery are not always physical – sometimes escalating debts, intimidation, deception, isolation, fear or even a ‘marriage’ that is forced on a young woman or girl without her consent can be used to hold a person against their will without the need for locks or chains.

Modern slavery is poorly understood, so it remains hidden within houses, communities and work-sites. Criminals are creative and will use any available means to conceal, rationalize, and justify slavery – be it race, ethnicity, religion, gender, caste, ‘custom’ or any other excuse or vulnerability they can exploit. Modern slavery is not always as self-evident as some other crimes, such as homicide or even theft. Modern slavery involves an extreme abuse of power, which is not always immediately apparent but requires understanding the people and the relationships involved.

While most forms of modern slavery are illegal all over the world, existing information suggests these laws are rarely used and enforced. The 2013 US Trafficking in Persons Report notes that while 46,570 victims of human trafficking were officially identified in 2012, there were only 7,705 prosecutions, and 4,750 convictions recorded globally.

Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.

The Americas

It is estimated that 3.78% of the estimated total 29.8 million people in modern slavery are in the Americas.

The relative wealth of Canada and the United States, their demand for cheap labor and relatively porous land borders, makes them prime destinations for human trafficking, as reflected in the underlying prevalence estimates. However, both countries score very low on overall risk, reflecting in large part very strong measures on slavery policy.

Aside from the United States and Canada, Nicaragua, Argentina and Brazil have the lowest (best) rankings on slavery policy, and Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Cuba have the highest (worst) rankings on this sub-issue.

The countries of the Caribbean basin show a lower level of risk of enslavement and other violations of rights than most Latin American countries. Haiti, however, is a special case within the region, with the highest average risk in the regional grouping. The long history of poor government, a strong legacy of slavery and exploitation, and an ongoing environmental crisis has pushed its population into extreme vulnerability to enslavement.

Mexico is a critical transit country for South and Central Americans seeking to enter the United States, one result of this is a highly developed criminal economy that preys on economic migrants, trafficking and enslaving them.


It is estimated that 1.82% of the estimated total 29.8 million people in modern slavery are in Europe.

The countries of Western Europe have the lowest overall risk of enslavement by region, reflecting low levels of corruption, the lowest levels of measured discrimination against women, a strong respect for human rights, and effective and comprehensive anti-slavery laws (in some countries). Given their equally efficient law enforcement and relatively well-funded governments, the disappointment is that some countries in Western Europe fail to bring sufficient resources to bear on human trafficking and slavery. Many of these countries could, with sufficient political will, be slavery-free.

Estimates of the prevalence of trafficking and slavery, based on random sample surveys, exist for two countries in Europe, Bulgaria and Romania. These estimates suggest tens of thousands of victims exist in this region rather than the low thousands of cases that are reported to governments.

The relationship between risk and prevalence is not always clear. For example, Turkey has the highest average risk within the European grouping but not the highest prevalence ranking.