What is Modern Slavery?


The Problem

  • 40 million people are in modern slavery today
  • Only 0.2% helped each year
  • 1 in 4 victims are children
  • 16 million victims are in supply chains

The top 5 products at risk of modern slavery imported into the G20 are electronics, garments, fish, cotton, and sugarcane.

Brick kiln @Madagascar / Photography by HRC

In 2018, the 10 countries with the highest rates were North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, The Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Iran. However, due to the covert nature of modern slavery, estimates may vary, and it is suggested that there are high rates of uncovered slavery in the Arab Gulf region.


The Definition

Women cleaning fish guts @Sri Lanka / Photography by HRC

Modern slavery is defined by the UK government as: “The recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation.” Exploitation includes, but is not limited to, sexual exploitation, forced or bonded labour, forced criminality, domestic servitude and the removal of organs.


Common Types

Descent-based slavery: Individuals being born into slavery because their ancestors were slaves.

Forced marriage: Marriage is considered slavery when informed consent is not given, or when individuals are subjected to domestic, labour, or sexual exploitation.

Child marriage: Children are considered victims when there is no informed consent, or they are subject to abuse.

Human trafficking: The movement of individuals through coercion, deception, force, fraud, or threat for the purpose of exploitation. This differs from smuggling, as smuggling requires informed consent.

Forced labour: All labour extracted from a person that is involuntary, and extracted via threat or use of force. There are 3 categories of forced labour: state-imposed forced labour, forced labour exploitation, and forced sexual exploitation.

Debt bondage/bonded labour: A form of forced labour. Individuals must work to pay off a ‘debt’ they have incurred. However, debt bondage is set up to prevent individuals from leaving.

Hazardous child labour: Occurs when a child’s labour is being exploited, a child is being forced to work, or when a child must work in hazardous conditions.

Domestic servitude: Typically involves the exploitation of vulnerable, isolated migrants, and subjects victims to long hours for little to no pay. Fear of deportation and lack of regulation often traps victims.

Child soldiers: Children either trafficked for the purpose of, or forced to work as, soldiers.

Organ trafficking: Trafficking with the intent of harvesting and/or selling victims organs.

Sex trafficking: Trafficking with the intent of forcing victims into sex work or sexual slavery.


The Goal

Ending modern slavery is on the global agenda. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Target 8.7 is to: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”