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Almost 46 Million People Live in ‘Modern Slavery'

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The Global Slavery Index map shows countries with high levels of what the Walk Free Foundation calls modern slavery. At left is a list of countries with the highest percentages of workers considered modern slaves.
The Global Slavery Index map shows countries with high levels of what the Walk Free Foundation calls modern slavery. At left is a list of countries with the highest percentages of workers considered modern slaves.

Almost 46 million people live in some form of forced labor or modern-day slavery, says an Australian research group.

The term modern slavery may include debt bondage, forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

The researchers say India, China and Pakistan have the largest number of people living in such conditions.

The Walk Free Foundation released its latest Global Slavery Index earlier this week in London. The foundation wants governments and businesses to do more to stop systems of forced labor.

The group studied forced labor in 167 countries. It found that the number of people living as modern slaves is 28 percent higher than previously believed.

The new report said India also has more than 18 million modern-day slaves. That is much more than any other country.

Kevin Bales is the lead author of the Global Slavery Index. He said India is working to end forced labor, but that is historically difficult.

'They have hereditary forms of slavery in India. They've had a long, long history of rural forms of agricultural slavery so, you know, it's something the Indians are working on very hard, but they've inherited a big problem from the past.'

Andrew Forrest is the chairman of the Walk Free foundation. He says forced labor means workers cannot leave their place of employment. He says their passports might be taken from them, or there might be a threat against them or their family members.

Forrest says such workers cannot leave their situation and are treated, in his words, like “a farm animal.”

The report says 58 percent of people living in modern slavery are in five Asian countries.

In addition to India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan have large numbers of people in forced labor conditions.

In southern Pakistan, for example, men, women and children work in brick factories. But they do not see wages for their hard work.

One brick maker described how he had to get a loan to feed his family. He said he believes he will never be able to repay his debt.

In the brick factories, the employer keeps all the workers’ earnings to secure their debt. The employer only provides the workers with food.

The report says people across the world are trapped in similar situations.

Wolfgang Buetner is with the group Human Rights Watch in Germany.

He said, “Forced labor is a big problem worldwide. We have again and again documented migrant workers, in particular domestic workers, but also workers on construction sites, (who) were being subjected to forced labor.”

And it is not only businesses. “There are states that systematically impose forced labor, for example, North Korea and Uzbekistan on its cotton fields,' he said.

The report said North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Central African Republic Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have taken little action to end slavery. It adds that North Korea has the highest percentage of modern slavery at over 4 percent of the population.

Forced labor conditions are found not only in developing nations, but also in wealthy nations. However, the wealthy ones have lower percentages of modern slavery among workers.

Activists are urging companies doing business in countries were forced labor is a problem to make sure their partners obey labor laws. However, the group said only a government campaign can make major improvements in working conditions.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Zlatica Hoke reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Do you have something to say about slavery? Please leave your ideas in the Comments section below, and post on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

bondage -- n. the state of being a slave

exploitation n. the act of using someone in a way that is unfair or illegal

foundation -- n. an organization to support with money to do something that helps society​

hereditary -- adj. passed or able to be passed from parent to child before birth

inherited -- v. to receive (money, property, character) from someone when that person dies

brick -- n. blocks of baked clay used as building material

migrant adj. relating to someone who travels from one place to another usually to work

domestic adj. related to things in the home

impose v. to force someone to do something, or to accept something

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