Modern slavery on the rise, UN says

Pandemic, armed conflicts and climate change have led to 'unprecedented' disruptions in employment and education, leading to increase in poverty and migration

Bangladeshi migrant workers wait for their turn to have their documents checked in an effort to stop forced labour and human trafficking. Reuters
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About 50 million people around the world are living in slavery, a report released on Monday by the UN International Labour Organisation said.

The number of people living in slavery increased by nearly 10 million between 2016 and 2021, a rise that has experts concerned.

“The fact that we're looking at 50 million people on any given day in 2021 living in modern slavery is just astonishing,” said Grace Forrest, director of Walk Free, an international human rights group.

The Covid-19 pandemic coupled with armed conflicts and climate change-related issues have led to “unprecedented” disruptions in employment and education, which in turn has led to an increase in “extreme” poverty and forced migration, the report states.

“All of these disasters have had a significant impact on the world's most vulnerable people,” Ms Forrest told The National. “The reality is that modern slavery is a completely man-made problem.”

The majority of those enduring modern slavery are migrants and forced labourers, who account for about 27 million of the total number.

The report also says that, on any given day in 2021, about 22 million women were living in forced marriages, a significant increase from 2016, when that number was under 16 million.

It also states that the “true” number of people living in forced marriages is likely to be “far greater”, especially for children under 16.

Syrian boys on World Day Against Child Labour — in pictures

Slavery occurs in every country, the International Labour Organisation said, but more than half of it takes place in “upper middle-income” or “high-income” countries.

“It cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious lines,” explained Ms Forrest. “And importantly, it also underpins our global economy.”

Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to slavery, the report says.

“This report underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly and regular,” said Antonio Vitorino, director general of the International Organisaton for Migration.

“Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and trafficking in persons depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants — and potential migrants — at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status.”

Mr Vitorino called on all societies to help “reverse these shocking trends”.

Updated: September 12, 2022, 4:03 PM
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