Protestors in Stockholm, Sweden, at a demonstration against slavery in Libya, in 2017.

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New report estimates there are 403,000 modern slaves in the US

UK has 12-times more modern slaves than previous estimates

Increases down to more accurate measurements, say report authors

CNN  — 

A report on modern slavery around the world has found that the number of slaves in developed nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, is much higher than previously thought.

The Global Slavery Index is published annually by the Walk Free Foundation. Last year, the Walk Free Foundation worked with the International Labor Organization to produce a report that estimated there were 40.3 million slaves worldwide, but didn’t give figures for individual countries.

In its new report, Walk Free Foundation is still using the 40.3 million figure, but says that improvements in its methodology mean it can estimate country-level figures more accurately than ever before: it now estimates that in the United States 403,000 people – or 1 in every 800 – are living in modern slavery, seven-times higher than it previously believed.

Read: Sex trafficking - the new American slavery

In the UK, it estimates there are 136,000 slaves, almost 12-times higher than previous figures.

The numbers contrast with UK government’s most recent estimate that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013. There is no equivalent government figure for the US.

Dramatic increases

The Index defines modern slavery as an umbrella term that refers to “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, or deception.” This incorporates various forms of slavery, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child labor, and forced marriage.

More on modern slavery

Walk Free Foundation says the reason for the dramatic increases in its slavery estimates for some countries is that the latest report uses far more data sources than previously.

The figures draw on surveys carried out in 48 countries (nearly twice the number of countries as in previous years) and face-to-face interviews with 70,000 people.

“We’re now measuring where a person was enslaved, as opposed to where they were interviewed or where we discovered their slavery,” Walk Free Foundation founder Andrew Forrest told CNN.

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As a result, the slavery estimates for other countries, including Australia, France, the Netherlands and other European nations, have increased. However, the report notes that these countries are also those whose governments are doing most to tackle the problem.

For example, the report lists the US as a world leader in addressing forced labor in supply chains and the UK also requires business to report on the measures they are taking to tackle forced labor in their supply chains.

Forrest explained that the increased accuracy means the Index now estimates the number of slaves in a country today, whereas previously, its figures were for the number of slaves in a country over a five-year period.

Read: Why measuring global slavery is so crucial to eradicating it

The change in methodology also means that some countries have seen their slavery figures greatly reduced. Walk Free’s estimates for the number of slaves in India, for example, has fallen to 8 million, from 18.4 million in its 2016 report.

North Korea has highest prevalence

The Index found that, as in its 2016 edition, North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, with an estimated one in 10 people (2.6 million) forced to work.

It is followed by Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan, countries that the report notes suffer from conflict and oppressive regimes.

The Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights organization with a mission to end modern slavery in a generation, was founded by Australian philanthropists, Andrew and Nicola Forrest.

Some have criticized the methodology behind the Index, which extrapolates its figures based on various risk factors and a “Vulnerability Model.”

Walk Free notes that, because of the changes to its methodology, the national slavery figures are not comparable with previous editions of the Global Slavery Index.

It says: “As such, while comparability from previous years is lost, the changes are justified by the need to continually improve our knowledge base.”