North Korea, Eritrea and Mauritania are the countries most affected by modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index published on Wednesday, which notes a “worsening” of the situation in the world since its last publication five years ago.
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The report estimates that 50 million people will live “in situations of modern slavery” in 2021, 10 million more than in 2016. This figure includes 28 million people in forced labor situations, and 22 millions forcibly married.
Among the factors explaining this worsening, “rising and more complex armed conflicts” and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Established by the association Walk Free, the report defines modern slavery as encompassing “forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, sexual exploitation”, or even the “sale and exploitation of children”.
North Korea has the highest rate, with 104.6 people in modern slavery per 1,000 people, according to the report.
Next come Eritrea (90.3) and Mauritania (32), which in 1981 became the last country to make hereditary slavery illegal.
Many of the countries most affected are in ‘volatile’ regions experiencing conflict or political instability, with large ‘vulnerable’ populations such as refugees or migrant workers.
Also among the 10 most affected countries are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where the “kafala”, guardianship without parentage, limits the rights of migrant workers. There are also Turkey, “which hosts millions of Syrian refugees”, Tajikistan, Russia and Afghanistan.
While forced labor is more common in poor countries, it has “deep” links to demand from wealthier countries, the report points out, finding that two-thirds of forced labor cases are linked to international supply chains.
The report highlights that G20 countries currently import $468 billion (€434 billion) of goods that may have been produced using forced labor, up from $354 billion (€328 billion) in the previous report .
Electronic products remain the most at risk, followed by clothing, palm oil and solar panels.
“Modern slavery permeates every aspect of our society. It is woven into our clothes, turns on our electronic devices, seasons our food”, declared the director of the association, Grace Forrest.
“Fundamentally, modern slavery is a manifestation of extreme inequality,” she added. “It is a mirror held up to power, which reflects who, in a given society, has it and who does not”.
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