Slavery has been with us for thousands of years. It's documented in records scratched on 4,000-year-old tablets. But while it would be comforting to think slavery is a relic of history, sadly this is not the case. Despite being outlawed nationally and internationally, it remains a scar on humanity here in Thailand, throughout Asia and in every continent in the world.
Modern slavery may not be as visible as in the past, but it's found in the richest and poorest countries, in our major cities and in the countryside. As our societies have developed, slavery has evolved as well.
Victims are transported on 747s as well as ox-carts. It's used to produce everything from electronics, steel, food, and the cotton in our clothes. It turns its victims into pliable servants to be used and discarded.
Violence is at the heart of all slavery. Whether victims are coerced to work in quarries and factories, forced into marriage, or tricked into working in brothels _ the common thread is that they are not free to walk away. But while we know enough to recognise that slavery, in its modern forms, is all around us, it remains poorly understood. This helps slavery remain hidden and hampers the fight to end it.
Without accurate information, we don't know where to focus our efforts or what works best in tackling it. This lack of information also makes it easier, sadly, for governments, business and communities to ignore it.
This is why it is important to shine a light on modern slavery by gathering as much authoritative information as possible. This is what has been drawn together in the first Global Slavery Index published by the Walk Free Foundation which is dedicated to ending modern slavery in this generation.
By collating information, the report enables the most accurate estimate yet of the numbers ensnared in slavery globally, regionally and nationally. It goes further by ranking 162 countries based on a weighted measure of the prevalence of modern slavery by population, the extent of child marriage and the scale of trafficking in and out the country.
The findings make bleak reading. The report estimates there are at least 29.8 million people living in modern slavery. Most of those denied their freedom live in Asia with India, China and Pakistan having the greatest absolute numbers of people enslaved. India alone accounts for almost half the total with millions trapped in debt bondage and bonded labour.
But when looked at as a proportion of the population, it is Mauritania which has the worst record. The West African country has a deeply entrenched system of hereditary slavery with 140,000 to 160,000 slaves out of a population of only 3.8 million. Haiti, a Caribbean nation where child slavery is also widespread, is in second place with Pakistan again one place below.
Even countries that perform best in the index _ Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom _ cannot be considered to be free of modern slavery.
It is estimated, for example, that there are as many as 4,000 modern slaves in the UK _ and more could be done to help them and prevent others suffering their fate. For the index also examines the priority each country makes of rooting out slavery, the methods used and how they could be improved.
So what does this first index say about the extent of modern slavery in Thailand and Asia? Despite its growing prosperity, Thailand has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in Southeast Asia with up to 500,000 people living in modern slavery _ the seventh largest enslaved population of any country in the world. The index singles out Thailand as a hub of exploitation, with victims of modern slavery originating predominantly from surrounding countries. Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, which has the ninth largest enslaved population worldwide, are identified as having the highest risk of enslavement in Southeast Asia, highlighting the regional nature of the challenge.
This is the first year of the index. As each year passes, we will work to refine and improve it. But it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world. We now know, for example, that just ten countries are home to 76% of those trapped in slavery. These nations must be the focus of global efforts. The index also calls for others to learn from countries like Brazil in its determination to root out modern slavery, which has been such a tragic part of its history.
This is the aim of the index. We intend it to be a powerful weapon for all in the fight against modern slavery. Governments must be at the heart of this effort, putting in place effective measures and providing the resources to support and enforce them. But it is all of us as citizens, as consumers and as individuals who can use the information contained in the index to take part in this battle and press our leaders for action here in Thailand and across the world.
Nick Grono is CEO of Walk Free Foundation, an anti-slavery charity based in London. The foundation launches the first-ever Global Slavery Index today.
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