When you buy a book in the "Voices of Slavery" series, 10% of the cover price is automatically donated to one of our nominated anti-slavery charities. It’s a small amount, but of course, every little helps. You have been reading about the Atlantic Slave Trade, which saw around 13 million people enslaved over a 350-year period. Today, there are - according to most estimates – more than three times that many enslaved people worldwide. There are now 100 times as many slaves in the world as there were in the USA in 1860.
The International Labour Organization states, “Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.”
The number of people in slavery therefore varies depending on the definition applied; estimates on the number of people in slavery range between 21 million and 46 million. According to the International Labour Organization, nearly 25 million people are in forced labour, of whom 16 million are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million are in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million endure forced labour imposed by state authorities. A further 15.4 million people are in forced marriage – many of them children – this brings the ILO’s total to around 40 million. That’s more than at any other point in history and means that one in 200 human beings are slaves.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounting for 71% of all slaves (source: antislavery.org). Around 8 million people are in “debt slavery” or “debt bondage” – the method used to enslave many Africans during the Atlantic Slave Trade. The website antislavery.org says “Debt bondage occurs when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. They are tricked into working for little or no pay, with no control over their debt. Most or all of the money they earn goes to pay off their loan. The value of their work invariably becomes greater than the original sum of money borrowed … People bonded by debt face coercion, violence and intimidation if they try to leave.”
Some modern slaves are born into families that have been owned as slaves for many generations while many more are kidnapped and sold into slavery. According to the United Nations, 51% of trafficking victims are women, 28% are children and 21% are men. 43% of victims are trafficked domestically – within their own country.
As of 2018, the countries with the most slaves were: India (8 million), China (3.86 million), Pakistan (3.19 million), North Korea (2.64 million), Nigeria (1.39 million), Iran (1.29 million), Indonesia (1.22 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1 million), Russia (794,000) and the Philippines (784,000).
Though the numbers are not as dramatic, Europe and America are also home to many thousands of enslaved people. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently 136,000 slaves in the UK. That’s more than 2 slaves per thousand members of the population. The USA has more than 400,000 slaves – 80% of whom are women and children. In Australia there are 15,000 slaves. In France there are 129,000. In Germany there are 167,000. In Russia there are 794,000. In Brazil there are 369,000.
47 countries have not yet recognised human trafficking as a crime in line with international standards and more than half of the world’s countries still do not effectively criminalise forced labour. Far from being “a thing of the past”, slavery is very much a contemporary problem, and we all have a part to play in tackling it. In the UK, certain commercial organisations must by law publish an annual statement setting out the steps they take to prevent modern slavery in their business and their supply chains. The public are becoming more aware that supply chain of everyday items such as clothes and electrical goods, as well as certain everyday services may involve forced or child labour. Awareness is growing but our conscience needs to be raised at international, nation and societal levels, and at a much quicker rate.
It’s 155 years since the end of the American Civil War, and slavery is still a shameful reality that probably touches most of us in the most mundane ways. It is probably uncontroversial to state that for modern slaves, their circumstances are in some cases more dire than the some of the interviewees in these books.
Modern slavery takes many forms – domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, forced begging, child soldiers, forced labour in agriculture and industry and debt bondage. We cannot bring the perpetrators of the Atlantic Slave Trade to justice, but we can honour the memory of its victims by fighting slavery in it's many modern forms.
Teaching Resources (UK)
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