Modern Slavery Still Prevalent in North Korea and Saudi Arabia
|Illustration of Slavery in Saudi Arabia
In recent years, the issue of modern slavery has gained significant attention worldwide. Despite efforts to combat this heinous crime, countries like North Korea, Eritrea, and Mauritania continue to have the highest prevalence of modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index 2023 published on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. The report highlights a worsening global situation compared to the previous survey conducted five years ago, with an estimated 50 million people living in modern slavery conditions in 2021.
The Alarming Increase in Modern Slavery
As reported by CNA, this number represents an increase of 10 million people since 2016 when the issue was last measured. The figures encompass approximately 28 million individuals subjected to forced labor and 22 million trapped in forced marriages. The investigation points to various factors contributing to the deteriorating situation, including escalating armed conflicts, increasing complexity, extensive environmental degradation, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The report was compiled by the human rights charity Walk Free, which defines modern slavery as forced labor, forced marriage, or slavery itself. It includes debt bondage, forced commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking, slavery-like practices, and the sale and exploitation of children. At its core, modern slavery systematically deprives individuals of their freedom to accept or refuse work and their freedom to choose when, whom, and whether to marry. In light of this benchmark, the closed and authoritarian regime of North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery (104.6 per 1,000 population), according to the report.
Eritrea and Mauritania: Close Runners-up
Following closely behind are Eritrea (90.3) and Mauritania (32), with the latter being the last country in the world to criminalize hereditary slavery in 1981. The top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery share some common characteristics, including limited protection for civil liberties and human rights. Many of these countries are located in unstable regions experiencing conflicts, political instability, or hosting vulnerable populations such as refugees or migrant workers.
Saudi Arabia and Other Notable Countries
Among the top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of slavery, we find notable names such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. In these countries, the rights of migrant workers are restricted by the kafala sponsorship system. Other countries making it to the top 10 include Turkey, which has accommodated millions of Syrian refugees, as well as Tajikistan, Russia, and Afghanistan. While forced labor is more prevalent in low-income countries, it is strongly associated with the demand from high-income countries, as stated in the report. It highlights that two-thirds of all forced labor cases are related to global supply chains. The report also reveals that the G20 countries, composed of the European Union and the world's top 19 economies, currently import $468 billion worth of goods at risk of being produced with forced labor, an increase from $354 billion in the previous report.
Industries at Risk and the Growing Demand for Renewable Energy
Electronics remain the highest-risk product, followed by garments, palm oil, and solar panels, reflecting the soaring demand for renewable energy products. "Modern slavery penetrates every aspect of our society. It is intertwined with the clothes we wear, the electronics we use, and the food we season," says Grace Forrest, the founder of the Grace Forrest group. She adds, "At its core, modern slavery is a manifestation of extreme inequality. It is a mirror that holds power, reflecting who in a particular society possesses it and who does not."
The Global Slavery Index 2023 serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing crisis of modern slavery worldwide. Despite efforts to combat this abhorrent practice, certain countries still grapple with its prevalence. It is crucial for governments, international organizations, and civil society to work together to raise awareness, enforce legislation, and provide support for survivors. Only through collective action can we hope to eradicate modern slavery and ensure a more just and equitable world for all.