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Ten Million More Slaves 

The 2022 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report was recently released, revealing there were 10 million more slaves in our world in 2021 compared to the first global estimates from 2016. The U.S. Department of State defines modern slavery as “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud or coercion.” Despite efforts on a global scale, the needle has sadly moved in the wrong direction and our world now has an estimated 50 million people trapped in some form of modern slavery.  

Countless survivors have been brave enough to tell their stories of freedom, imploring us to not give up hope and to continue to move forward more intelligently. The 119-page document presents the scale and manifestations of modern slavery in addition to giving a path to see the United Nations’ goal to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers” realized by 2030. 

Our analysis of the document demonstrates that a call to action remains essential for the sake of sustainable development and social justice issues on a global scale: 

  • The report breaks modern slavery into two categories: Forced Labor, which includes labor exploitation, forced commercial sexual exploitation, forced child labor, and state-imposed forced labor, and the second category being Forced Marriage.
  • 2021 reports estimate of 49.6 million slaves (27.6m Forced Labor; 22m Forced Marriage) vs. 2016 numbers reflecting 40.3 million (25m Forced Labor; 15m Forced Marriage). 
  • 50 million people translates to nearly 1 per 150 people in the world forced into modern slavery
  • Withholding wages is the most common form of coercion used within forced labor exploitation. Women are more likely to be threatened with physical and sexual violence and threats upon family members while men are primarily threatened by financial penalties or violence.
  • Age Group: Adults account for 6.9 cases per 1,000 population of total modern slavery while 5.2 cases per 1,000 were children. The number and prevalence were higher for adults in the areas of privately imposed forced labor (excluding sexual exploitation) whereas children were subjected the most to forced marriage and forced commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Gender: Males account for 3 of 4 in forced labor imposed by state authorities. Women and girls, however, accounted for 71 per cent of total modern slavery victims. Because women and girls are disproportionately affected, it is recommended that legislative and policy responses “have a gendered lens, including gender-sensitive laws, policies, programs, and budgets, including gender-responsive social protection mechanisms.”
  • Region (in order of prevalence of total modern slavery):  Arab States (10.1 per 1,000 people), Europe and Central Asia (6.9 per 1,000), Asia and the Pacific (6.8 per 1,000), Africa (5.2 per 1,000), Americas (5 per 1,000). 
  • Nearly two-thirds of all forced marriages are in Asia and the Pacific. The report notes “Ensuring that women and girls have the opportunity and ability to complete school, earn a livelihood, and inherit assets plays a significant role in reducing vulnerability to forced marriage.”
  • The Covid-19 pandemic and armed conflicts disrupted employment and education and led to levels of extreme poverty which intensified the risk of all forms of modern slavery. For the first time in two decades, there has been an increase in global unemployment, indebtedness, and extreme poverty.
  • Victim Services: only a small fraction of victims are identified and referred to comprehensive protection services or provided with compensation or other form of remedy. The need has never been greater for immediate assistance, rehabilitation, and long-term sustainable solutions for a victim to successfully recover and avoid re-victimization.

 A Call to Action: Learning that the number of people trapped in modern slavery has risen in the last five years is a hard pill to swallow for most of us in the field working diligently to combat human trafficking in all its forms. The report sheds light, however, on the additional need to focus on preventative best practices and effective training to our frontline professionals, first responders, employers, and beyond. The report notes that “a large share of forced labor cases can be traced to abuses occurring during the recruitment phase of their employment” and calls to “raise awareness of forced labor risks and the compliance obligations of employers” to deter and promptly identify forced labor. Training that teaches how to recognize and identify trafficking as a preventative measure, in addition to ways to implement a trauma-informed, victim-centered response to victims of this crime are also needed. With more than 3.3 million of those currently in forced labor being children, the report implores that “far more investment is needed in identification and protection measures for children in forced labor, including, but not limited to, those in commercial sexual exploitation and those in forced labor linked to armed conflict.” 

Overall, this is a problem that is too big for any one government to handle. It will take a global myriad of government and non-government entities to get us back on track moving the trajectory to reflect the efforts being made. The world has an abundance of survivors with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences and we would be wise to incorporate them into the processes that determine government policy and programs intended to combat human trafficking. Modern Slavery might be worse in some regions than others, but it affects every region in our world, nonetheless. If the demand remains for slaves, the demand for champions willing to fight this worthy fight also remains.  


Cindy Johnson, TWG Research Specialist & Strategy Consultant