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Which countries have the most slaves? Key figures from global survey index

Last Updated on 2021/11/18

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nearly 46 million people around the world are living as slaves, forced to work in factories, mines and farms, sold for sex, trapped in debt bondage or born into servitude, according to the third Global Slavery Index released on Tuesday. The survey by Walk Free Foundation, the Australia-based human rights group, increased the estimated number of people in modern slavery to 45.8 million from 35.8 million in 2014.

As a result of economic growth, poverty rates across the region have fallen, notably in India and China.

Here are some key figures from the index:

* Asia is home to an estimated two-thirds of the total number of people living in modern slavery
* Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s slaves
* India is the country with the greatest number of people living in some form of modern slavery, estimated at 18.3 million
* China came second with an estimated 3.4 million slaves and Pakistan third with an estimated 2.1 million slaves
* Rounding out the top 10 were Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Russia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia
* North Korea is the country with the highest estimated proportion of modern slavery with nearly one in every 20 North Koreans, or 4.37 percent of a 25 million population, living in slavery
* In terms of concentration, second was Uzbekistan with 3.97 percent of its population in slavery amid reports of forced labour in its cotton industry, then Cambodia with 1.6 percent, India with 1.4 percent and Qatar with 1.36 percent
* Governments taking the most steps to combat modern slavery were the Netherlands, the United States, Britain, Sweden, Australia, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Belgium and Norway
* The least action was being taken by the governments of North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Hong Kong, Central African Republic, Papua New Guinea, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit

Asia-Pacific :

The Asia-Pacific is the most populous region of the world. It spans Afghanistan in the west, to New Zealand in the south-east, to Mongolia in the north. Two thirds of the estimated 45.8 million people in modern slavery were identified in the Asia-Pacific. All forms of modern slavery were identified including forced labour in brick kilns, agriculture and the garment sector, child soldiers in Afghanistan, India and Thailand, forced begging, and commercial sexual exploitation. Men and women experienced forced labour in manufacturing, agriculture, food production and construction. Women were also vulnerable to sexual exploitation, forced marriage and domestic servitude. Large numbers of women and girls continued to migrate internally and internationally for jobs as domestic workers. While this offers an important economic opportunity, reports of abuse, exploitation and servitude persist, particularly in wealthy countries within the region where there was high demand for live-in help—Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. Inhumane treatment of domestic workers including starvation and sexual abuse was reported in 2015, as well as indicators of forced labour including extortionate recruitment fees, confinement to the place of employment, excessive unpaid overtime, withholding of wages and confiscation of identity documents. In 2016, cases of domestic worker exploitation were also noted in countries with low levels of prevalence, such as Australia.

The high prevalence of modern slavery in the region reflects the reality that many countries in Asia provide low-skilled labour for the production stage of global supply chains for various industries including food production, garments and technology.


Within low-skilled and loosely-regulated industries, there is a risk of modern slavery, such as human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage. In 2015–2016, there were cases of forced labour within the Malaysian electronics industry, exploitation on Malaysian palm oil plantations, and debt bondage in
the apparel industries of Bangladesh and Vietnam. The reputational risk of slavery in supply chains compelled action
from global brands, including companies renowned for social responsibility. In 2015, whilst undertaking worker assessments, Patagonia identified workers in their Taiwanese supplier factories would take up to two years of a three-year employment contract to pay off recruitment-related debt. Patagonia have taken strong steps to combat the issue by prohibiting suppliers and their brokers to charge or collect any recruitment related-fees or expenses, and if the workers have paid fees, suppliers must reimburse them. The abuse of workers on Thai fishing vessels operating in South East Asian waters has become increasingly well documented. Researchers and investigative journalists have documented the abuse of migrant workers on fishing vessels, often young men and boys, who have endured brutal treatment including physical abuse, excessive and inhumane working hours, sleep and food deprivation, and forced use of methamphetamines. Some longhaul trawlers and their fishermen remained at sea for years at a time. Between April and September 2015, more than 2,000 men were rescued from Thai fishing vessels, many of which were operating in Indonesian waters. Ongoing reports of worker exploitation in seafood pre-processing facilities were also evident, with workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos working excessive hours in oppressive and abusive conditions. Much of the seafood processed was distributed to the global market. Forced and child marriage persists in countries throughout the region, particularly in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Indonesia. The UN estimates more than 130 million girls in South Asia will be married between 2010 and 2030.

In China, the legacy of the former one-child policy has led to a shortage of women of marriageable age. To meet this demand, some Cambodian, Vietnamese and North Korean women and girls are trafficked to China to be sold as brides.

A similar sex imbalance, resulting in an absence of available brides in India,
has fuelled the trafficking of women for forced marriage. The sex imbalance is exacerbated in rural communities in India where many girls of marriageable age have migrated to cities for employment. In some instances, girls are forced into marriage and then used as unpaid labourers—local day labourers cost US$140 for a season but a bride can cost only US$100 as a once-off payment. Criminal justice and victim support statistics, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) statistics noted below, confirm that forced prostitution and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls continues to be a reality in the Asian region. Rising internet usage rates, the availability of mobile phones, and poverty in many parts of Asia has facilitated online forms of child sexual abuse for profit. The phenomenon of adults paying for direct live-streaming video footage of children performing sexual acts in front of a webcam was evident in the Philippines.


All countries within the Asia-Pacific exhibit some pre-conditions to modern slavery. Some countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan have high levels of conflict, terrorism and displacement. In other countries, such as Thailand and Myanmar, there is significant discrimination against minorities. Some countries in the region continue to exhibit weak rule of law, corruption and poverty, all of which increase individuals risk to modern slavery. Though countries like Australia and New Zealand exhibit high levels of development, stability and strong policies, some minority groups, including regular and irregular migrants, remain at risk of exploitation. Nonetheless, extreme poverty and unequal income distribution within countries, particularly between the rural and urban populations, persist as serious social and economic challenges.Unemployment and underemployment are chronic problems in the region which push men, women and children into risky migration practices and debt bondage. In 2015, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan soared to 40 percent. Myanmar also experienced a high youth unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, which assisted the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) to recruit and use underage children in conflict. According to Child Soldiers International, unaccompanied children searching for work were recruited at railway stations, bus terminals, markets and outside temples, and deceptively offered roles as drivers. High levels of labour migration, some of which is regular but can involve payment of illegal fees or other irregular aspects, are reflected in patterns of exploitation. The Philippines has one of the largest migratory populations with their national economy largely depending on Overseas Filipino Worker’s (OFW) remittances. The OFWs have been deemed the ‘new heroes’ of the Philippines’ economy. However, some OFWs are subjected to exploitation throughout the Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and the Middle East. In November 2015, ten Filipina trafficking victims in Iraqi Kurdistan were rescued and repatriated by the Philippine Embassy after being subjected to debt bondage.

Natural disasters and the effects of climate change have increased vulnerability to modern slavery. Human traffickers preyed upon post-disaster populations who are vulnerable to accepting promises of jobs and security.

This was evidenced following Typhoon Haiyan where human traffickers were intercepted trafficking young women on false job offers, and seen again in 2015, after earthquakes in Nepal displaced more than two million people. Since then, Indian officials uncovered trafficking networks with an estimated 12,000 Nepalese children trafficked to India. Evolving climatic conditions also exacerbate vulnerability, increasing the potential for internal displacement, migration and willingness to search for improved livelihood opportunities through informal channels. Throughout 2015–16, cyclones in Myanmar, flooding in India, and drought in Vietnam have increased insecurity for thousands of people.

Systematic discrimination against some ethnic minorities and stateless populations across the region has resulted in patterns of high-risk migration. The Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group living in Myanmar, continue to face systemic persecution and denial of rights. In April 2015, the Myanmar Government stripped Rohingya of their voting rights by rescinding their temporary ID cards, the last official identification available to them. Many lost their homes, farms, and the ability to work, creating a dire choice between residing in shanty towns on the outskirts of Rakhine or paying smugglers to transport them abroad. In 2015, thousands were left stranded at sea.

SOURCE: Global Slavery Index

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