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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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.