Our key takeaway: “50 million people are living in modern slavery on any given day in 2021.” This is a 10 million increase since the 2018 Global Slavery Index. Of this figure, nearly two-thirds of all forced labour cases are connected to global supply chains. US$468 billion of G20 imports are goods at risk of modern slavery. As the report states, modern slavery “permeates every aspect of our society. It is woven through our clothes, lights up our electronics, and seasons our food.” The report makes the inextricable link between climate change and human rights: associated effects of climate change, such as resources scarcity, loss of livelihoods, increases in poverty and unequal access to health and education, all magnify the drivers of modern slavery. And brings the gender angle: with the climate crisis, women’s suffering is intensified by the structural gender inequalities that dominate their lives. And touches upon the human rights impacts of climate action itself, shining the light on how industries creating create renewable energies to tackle the climate crisis has led to further risks of exploitation.
Walk Free released The Global Slavery Index 2023, which sets out the national estimates of modern slavery for 160 countries (May 2023):
- Modern slavery has worsened and exists against a backdrop of multiple crises: The report finds that “50 million people are living in modern slavery on any given day in 2021”; a 10 million increase since the 2018 Global Slavery Index. Of this figure: “Nearly two-thirds of all forced labour cases are connected to global supply chains.” Compounding crises such as climate change, conflict, democracy decline, and rising socio-economic inequality heighten the risk of modern slavery because they cause “significant disruption to employment and education, leading to increases in extreme poverty and forced and unsafe migration.” Modern slavery affects all countries: "Forced labour occurs in all countries regardless of income, with the majority occurring in lower-middle and upper-middle income countries”, and those that have the strongest government response are still falling short of effectively tackling this issue: “Many wealthy countries are failing their duties to protect the most vulnerable. For example, while the UK currently has the strongest response, significant gaps in protections expose survivors to risks of re trafficking.” The consumption patterns of wealthier countries such as those part of the G20 actually fuel modern slavery in lower-income countries at the frontlines of global supply chains: “G20 nations account for more than 75 per cent of the world’s trade and consume many products at risk of forced labour.”
- “Climate change heightens the risk of all forms of modern slavery”: The report makes abundantly clear that the climate crisis is a human rights crisis: “Associated effects [of climate change] such as resources scarcity, loss of livelihoods, increases in poverty and unequal access to health and education” magnify the drivers of modern slavery. For marginalised groups, climate change builds on existing systems of exploitation: “With the climate crisis…women’s suffering is intensified by the structural gender inequalities that dominate their lives.”The child bride is also “another invisible victim of the climate crisis”: “Extreme weather creates economic suffering and more precarious situations for families. Increasingly, parents are being forced to give away their children for marriage in order to secure some financial stability.” It is also important to note that climate action can cause adverse human rights impacts: “The growth of new “sustainable” industries to create renewable energies to tackle the climate crisis has led to further risks of exploitation, with evidence of state-imposed forced labour” in some countries. All this is to say that marginalised groups are most at risk of climate-related human rights impacts when they have contributed the least to this crises. You cannot tackle climate change without looking at the structural inequalities that underpin society; to do so would mean leaving people behind in the green economy transition.
- How are companies connected to modern slavery and what they can do to tackle this issue: The purchasing practices of businesses fuel exploitation in lower-income countries at the forefront of global supply chains. This is not limited to one sector, but affects all: i) “Global demand for fast fashion has spurred exponential growth in the garment industry, while garment workers, hidden deep in supply chains, face poor and exploitative work”; ii) “Despite the progress of some companies, forced labour and the worst form of child labour are used to farm and harvest the cocoa beans that end up in chocolate”; and iii) “Modern slavery has permeated the entire digital value chain, from the raw materials that create the devices that consumers use daily to connect online to the overseas workforces processing data and even onto social media platforms themselves.” In all sectors, most forced labour cases are found in the lowest and most informal tiers of the supply chain such as extraction of raw materials and production stages. The report recommends that companies: i) “[M]ust recognise and respond to modern slavery as an intersectional issue.” For instance, “ensure that human rights, including right to freedom from forced labour and from other forms of modern slavery, are embedded in efforts to build a green economy to respond to the climate crisis”; ii) “Must prioritise human rights when engaging with repressive regimes.” This includes: “Conduct due diligence to ensure that any trade, business, or investment is not contributing to or benefitting from state-imposed forced labour”; “Where links to state-imposed forced labour are identified, and operating in line with the UN Guiding Principles has become impossible, withdraw from sourcing goods and services”; and “Ensure survivors of state-imposed forced labour have access to remediation, which may include financial compensation and access to legal, health, and psychological services."