How can there still be 30m people living as slaves in 2013?

A new report reveals the extent of modern slavery worldwide, and finds that India has the highest number of enslaved people at 1.2m.

Globally 29.8 million people live in modern slavery, according to a new report called the Global Slavery Index released today by the Walk Free Foundation. The country with the highest number of enslaved people is India, with over 1.2 million, followed by China, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia. However, Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India and Nepal have the highest rates of modern slavery.

Nick Grono, the CEO of the Walk Free Foundation said that the report’s authors “were not particularly surprised by the findings, though of course they make for disturbing reading" and that they wanted to highlight the scale of the problem globally.

The UK and Ireland ranked as the countries with the lowest proportion of people in slavery. The report estimates that between 4,200-4,600 people are enslaved in the UK and 300-340 in Ireland.

The Global Slavery Index, which covers slavery in 162 countries, defines slavery to include forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage and bonded labour and human trafficking. It has found that the vast majority of enslaved people are in Asia (home to 29.8% of the 29.8m in modern slavery), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (16%), while Europe has the lowest number (1.8%). It argues that internationally, high levels of corruption and poverty, and low levels of human development all correlate with higher rates of poverty.

Mauritania has the highest proportion of people in slavery of any country in the world, estimated at 20%. Mauritanian society practices chattel slavery along ethnic lines, where masters have full control over adults and children in slavery, as well as their descendents. There are also incidences of forced marriage, and of children in religious schools being forced to go begging.

In India, the country with the highest number of people in slavery, this has taken varied forms from child labour and bonded labour, to commercial sexual exploitation and forced and servile marriage. The reports authors suggest that both widespread poverty (32.7% of Indians live on less than $1.25 a day) and the caste system have contributed to India’s appalling record.

Although the index compares the UK favourably to other countries, modern slavery and forced labour, particularly for those trafficked into the country, is still a big problem, as recent Sunday Times investigations have demonstrated. The reports authors acknowledge that because the UK lacks an official data capture mechanism on the subject, obtaining figures were hard (although the lack of data is a problem everywhere.)

It singles out Vietnamese gangs forcing children and young adults to work on cannabis farms, as well as forced labour in factories, the food industry, construction and in nail salons. Only 10% of police officers have undergone training in modern slavery, and the report flagged up the need to extend the reach of anti-slavery education campaigns currently running at ports and borders.

The report acknowledges that it is difficult to collect statistics on slavery, because it is usually illegal and hidden from national governments, but it hopes that countries will agree to work with the Walk Free Foundation to improve reporting.

“We are hoping that countries engage with, and respond to these findings. We expect that many countries will challenge these findings, and we welcome that. To any country that challenges our findings we will say - please work with us to do a much more rigorous assessment in your country of the state of modern slavery. The most effective way to do that is to work with us to conduct a random sample survey of your population to get a far more accurate measure of the scale of the problem,” Grono said.
 

Shackles which were used to tether slaves on display at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Photo:Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Under pressure at home, Donald Trump will struggle to deliver what Saudi Arabia wants

Above all, the Gulf states want stability. Can this beleaguered US president bring order?

There is a nervous energy around Riyadh. Fresh palm trees line the roads from the airport, punctuated by a wall of American flags and corporate slogans: “Together we prevail.” All the street lights are suddenly working.

The visit of any American president is always a lavish affair in Saudi Arabia, but there is an optimism to this visit that evaded the Obama years and even the recent visits of Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

Yet, there are two distinct parts to this trip – Trump’s first overseas engagement as president – that will determine its success. The first is relatively straightforward. Trump will sign huge defence contracts worth billions of dollars and offer trading opportunities that allow him to maintain his narrative of economic renewal for American businesses.

For the Saudis, too, these deals will fit into their ambitious project – known as Vision 2030 – to expand and diversify their economy away from its current dependence on oil revenues. Both parties are comfortable with this type of corporate and transactional government, enjoying the gaudy pomp and ceremony that comes with the signing of newly minted deals.

The more complicated aspects of the trip relate to its political dimensions. As the Middle East continues to convulse under the most significant turmoil to envelope it since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, what Gulf leaders desperately want is the re-establishment of order. At its core, that is what will define Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and the Saudis are optimistic.

Their buoyancy is borne of shared regional interests, not least curbing Iranian influence. Ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Tehran has asserted itself across the Levant by organising hundreds of proxies to fight on its behalf in Syria and Iraq. Closer to home, too, the Gulf states accuse Iran of fomenting unrest within Shia communities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, in Bahrain, and in Yemen.

All of this has left the House of Saud feeling especially vulnerable. Having enjoyed an American security umbrella since the 1970s, Obama’s pursuit of the Iran deal left them feeling particularly exposed.

In part at least, this explains some of the Kingdom’s more frantic actions at home and abroad – including the execution of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the war in Yemen. Both are really about posturing to Iran: projecting power and demonstrating Saudi resolve.

Trump shares these concerns over Iranian influence, is prepared to look the other way on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is deeply opposed to Obama’s nuclear deal. Riyadh believes he will restore the status quo and is encouraged by the direction of travel.

Just last month Trump commissioned a review of the Iran deal while the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia also welcomed Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles against a Syrian military base last month after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

These measures have been largely tokenistic, but their broader impact has been very significant. The Saudis, and their Gulf partners more generally, feel greatly reassured. This is an American presence in the region that is aligned to their interests, that they know well and can manage.

That is why Gulf states have rushed to embrace the new president ever since he first entered the Oval Office. Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (colloquially known simply as “MBS”), already visited him in Washington earlier this year. The Emiratis and others followed shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for Mohammed bin Salman later described the meeting with Trump as an “historical turning point” in relations between the two countries. A White House readout of the meeting baldly stated: “The President and the deputy crown prince noted the importance of confronting Iran's destabilising regional activities.”

Now that Trump is visiting them, the Saudis are hoping to broker an even broader series of engagements between the current administration and the Islamic world. To that end, they are bringing 24 different Muslim leaders to Saudi Arabia for this visit.

This is where Trump’s visit is likely to be fraught because he plans to deliver a major speech about Islam during his visit – a move that has seemingly no positives associated with it.

There is a lot of interest (and bemusement) from ordinary Saudis about what Trump will actually say. Most are willing to look beyond his divisive campaign rhetoric – he did, after all, declare “I think Islam hates us” – and listen to him in Riyadh. But what can he say?

Either he will indulge his audience by describing Islam as a great civilisation, thereby angering much of his political base; or he will stick to the deeply hostile rhetoric of his campaign.

There is, of course, room for an informed, careful, and nuanced speech to be made on the topic, but these are not adjectives commonly associated with Donald Trump. Indeed, the pressure is on.

He will be on the road for nine days at a time when pressure is building over the sacking of the former FBI director James Comey and the ongoing investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

It is already being reported that Trump is not entirely enthusiastic about such a long overseas programme, but he is committed now. As with almost everything concerning his presidency, this extra pressure adds a wild air of unpredictability to what could happen.

Away from the lucrative deals and glad-handing, this will be the real standard by which to measure the success of Trump’s visit. For a relationship principally defined by its pursuit of stability, whether Trump can deliver what the Gulf really wants remains to be seen.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

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