Sep 12, 2022 - World

Modern slavery has risen significantly in last five years, new report says

A child shows their dirt covered hands
The hands of a child working at a brick factory in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2016. Photo: Xinhua/Rahmat Alizadah via Getty Images

The number of people living in modern slavery reached an estimated 50 million in 2021, marking a significant increase since 2016, according to a new report published Monday by the UN's labor agency.

The big picture: Overlapping crises — from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change to armed conflicts — have caused "unprecedented disruption to employment and education" and increased extreme poverty, unsafe migration and gender-based violence, leading to a heightened risk of modern slavery, according to the report.

Be smart: The International Labour Organization report defines modern slavery as being "comprised of two principal components — forced labour and forced marriage."

By the numbers: More than 9 million more people are living in modern slavery in 2021 than in 2016, per the report.

  • The most recent figures consist of 27.6 million people — including 3.3 million children — enduring forced labor and 22 million people in forced marriage.
  • The report found that more than half of all forced labor occurred in upper-middle-income or high-income countries.
  • Migrants were three times more likely to be involved in forced labor than adult non-migrant workers. Four out of five people in forced commercial sexual exploitation were women and girls.
  • More than two thirds of people forced to marry against their will were women and girls, and the vast majority of forced marriages were arranged by family members.
  • 26% of forced marriages occurred in high- or upper-middle-income countries, while roughly 60% of people forced into marriage lived in lower-middle-income countries.

What they're saying: "It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights," ILO director-general Guy Ryder said in the press release.

  • "We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done," he added.
  • "Governments cannot do this alone. International standards provide a sound basis, and an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed. Trade unions, employers' organizations, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play."
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