Why measuring global slavery is so crucial to eradicating it

Protestors in Stockholm, Sweden, at a demonstration against slavery in Libya.

Grace Forrest is a founding director of Walk Free Foundation, an international organization focused on the eradication of modern slavery. Davina Durgana is a report co-author and senior statistician on the Walk Free Foundation's Global Slavery Index. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

(CNN)On any given day in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in slavery -- more than the populations of Australia, Portugal and Costa Rica combined.

When this startling research, The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, was released at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017, it revealed the true scale of this often-invisible scourge. A crime thought to be left in the 19th century, not only existing but thriving in the present day.
Grace Forrest
The pioneering data set was the culmination of years of hard work between the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration.
    The research provides governments with a baseline estimate of the problem, and encouragingly, some are already acting.

    Tackling slavery across borders

    In January, the Canadian government announced the creation of an independent ombudsman to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity overseas.
    Davina Durgana
    This means the Canadian government is actively working to scrutinize and eliminate slavery, especially forced labor, within global supply chains.
    A country like Canada showing leadership on this issue is something to be celebrated and marks a major development in the international debate.
    It is in line with the research partners' call for global cooperation between governments, organizations and the business community to tackle modern slavery across sectors and borders. A crime this large and far-reaching requires a transnational and cross-sector response.

    Exploiting the vulnerable

    Global slavery is one of the most profitable criminal industries in the world. Despite this it is largely invisible, in part because in many societies it disproportionately affects the most vulnerable and marginalized. That is why measuring this problem is so crucial in exposing and ultimately resolving it.
    Women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounting for 28.7 million, or 71 per cent of the overall total, 84 per cent of victims of forced marriage and 99 per cent of victims of forced labor in the commercial sex industry, according to the Global Estimates.
    The Global Estimates included forced marriage -- finding about 15 million people were in forced marriages around the world.
    More than one third of all of these victims were children at the time of the marriage, and almost all child victims were girls. This is an area that still requires significant global intervention.
    In the Global Estimates, forced marriage refers to situations where people, regardless of their age, were forced to marry without their consent. This can happen through physical, emotional or financial duress, deception or the use of force and threats.
    It has been recognized for more than 60 years that forced marriage is in international law a slavery-like practice. Once forced to marry, all too often victims of forced marriage are subjected to other human rights abuses, including sexual and domestic servitude, and forced labor. Children are particularly vulnerable in these situations.

    Building tangible change

    The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery represented a milestone achievement for the field. It is the baseline foundation on which we now must take action and build tangible change.
    From the data we have collected over the last five years, we know that 89 million people have experienced some form of modern slavery during that time -- for periods ranging from a few days to the entire five years.
    It is important to reflect on the significant challenges that remain. While the odds may seem overwhelming, we must remember that the challenges that face us are man-made.
    Each and every individual has the right and the power to continue this momentum by applying pressure to governments and corporates.
    This report should serve as a sharp reminder to all world leaders about the responsibility they have in individually and collectively tackling this problem. We must work collaboratively and effectively to finally eradicate modern slavery in this century.
    National governments must take responsibility for modern slavery at home and be accountable for the slavery that may permeate their borders through long supply chains.
    The Global Estimates provides governments with clear visibility of a problem that has long been overlooked. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.
    We cannot accept that on any given day there are tens of millions of people living in modern slavery.