According to a report published Thursday by The Global Slavery Index, 400,000 people are working as modern slaves in the United States, and 136,000 people have fallen into modern slavery in the United Kingdom.
The report, sponsored by the Walk Free and Minderoo foundations, defines modern slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power” and estimates there are 40.3 million people worldwide who are trapped by modern slavery.
Of the total number, most victims of slave labor live in North Korea, where the report says one in every 10 people are forced to work.
In the U.S. victims of slave labor were found primarily working in domestic work, agriculture and farm work, travelling sales crews, restaurant or food services, and health and beauty services, while in the U.K. they were found primarily in car washes, nail bars, driveway and block paving, construction, agriculture, and food processing.
The report also found that the U.S. is the largest importer of goods at-risk of being manufactured through forced labor.
“Globally, imports were a key driver of modern slavery, with the U.S. as the biggest purchaser of goods at-risk of being produced through forced labor, importing more than US$144 billion a year,” the report explains. Worldwide, the products more at-risk are laptops, computers, mobile phones, garments, fish, cocoa, and timber.
The findings reveal that even countries with relatively strong responses and robust criminal justice systems like the U.S. and the U.K. allow vulnerable populations, especially people in homelessness and undocumented immigrants, to fall prey to modern slavery schemes.
The report also highlights the gender aspect of this global issue, finding that 71 percent of victims are women and girls. Furthermore, the reports show “more than a third of victims of modern slavery are victims of forced marriages.”
Unlike what is commonly believed, the practice of forced marriages is not exclusive to so-called underdeveloped countries. Although it is more prevalent in Africa and the Asia Pacific, forced marriages have been registered in so-called developed countries like the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
The top five products at risk of modern slavery imported by G20 countries are electronics (laptops, computers and mobile phones), garments, fish, cocoa, and sugarcane.
Consumers can choose to be more cautious when buying these products by researching the companies selling them and finding local and fair trade options. However, the most critical step to avoid complicity with modern slavery is for importing countries to examine supply chains. According to the report, China, the U.S., France, Brazil, Germany, Italy and the U.K. are leading the way in these efforts.