40.3 million: the new modern slavery figure

Last week, Alliance 8.7 issued a new report, revising the estimate for the number of people in modern slavery to 40.3 million people worldwide.

The numbers mean that on any given day in 2016, there were 25 million people in forced labour and 15 million in a situation of forced marriage. This equates to 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world – 71 per cent of whom are women and one in four of whom are children.

This is the first time that these leading organisations have worked together to produce a combined estimate of this kind so this report is significant. The most quoted statistics until now have come from two separate sources – the Global Slavery Index and the International Labour Organisation. The Global Slavery Index previously produced a figure for 2016 of 45.8 million, whereas the ILO figure placed the number of people in forced labour at 20.9 million – clearly a vast difference.

Does this mean we have either lost – or found – vast numbers of people living in modern slavery? This has huge implications for the people involved – not to mention the estimated US$150 billion a year in profits. It’s important that we can rely on the numbers and there are several factors that are important in the discussion on why we can.

First, we need to look at the definitions. The revised estimate of 40.3 million in modern slavery has included forced labour and forced marriage whereas the previous ILO estimate only included victims of forced labour.

Second, the methods used to estimate the numbers are different. Numbers are especially tricky in this field, where populations are often hidden – such as children working in a brothel or brick kiln – and issues are compounded by a lack of proper census data from which to make accurate estimations but enhancements in data quality and information are making vast improvements.

Finally, the figure of 40.3 million from the group working on SDG 8.7 on eradicating modern slavery, and ending child labour in all its forms should be applauded for this example of collaboration in action.

No matter what the figure, this is a global issue involving millions of people that is in need of addressing. The Mekong Club is committed to working with organisations to help address this issue to eventually eradicate the number.

Read Zoe Fortune’s SCMP op-ed here.