Global Slavery Index launches at UN Headquarters

Posted on Thursday 19th July 2018

Forced labour camps

A team from the University of Nottingham has worked on the government response assessment for the new edition of the Global Slavery Index, which was launched today at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Produced by the Walk Free Foundation, the Global Slavery Index provides data for measuring progress on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal target 8.7—ending slavery worldwide. It is a critical tool for governments, citizens, NGOs and businesses, and is the only global report of its kind.

For the first time, this edition of the Index draws on trade data about products at risk of being produced by modern slavery. This provides important new insights into the responsibilities of governments and business to respond to this issue.

The methodology for the Index was developed with input from an international and independent Expert Advisory Group. Professor Kevin Bales CMG from the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab served as a member of the Expert Working Group.

The Index tracks the progress of governments in their efforts to tackle modern slavery. The Rights Lab collaborated on the Index’s assessment of government actions. Governments play a critical role in developing and implementing the laws, policies, and programmes that are needed to prevent and respond to slavery. Crucially, the government response assessment does not neglect the distinctions between each country, providing a tailored, country-specific tool.

A team of 14 Rights Lab researchers from multiple disciplines worked with Walk Free’s Katharine Bryant on the Index’s assessment of government responses for 181 countries, with more than 17,000 datapoints. The researchers were from the Rights Lab’s monitoring and evaluation project, led by Professor Todd Landman. The assessment provides policy makers with examples of good practice, as well as identifying current gaps in specific responses. North Korea is the country with the weakest government response in terms of actions taken to combat modern slavery. The UK is in the top 3 for government responses globally.

Rights Lab scholar Minh Dang contributed a powerful essay to the 2018 report and participated in the report launch in New York. Her essay is call to action for the anti-slavery movement to deepen its engagement with survivors of slavery. Minh leads the Survivor Alliance, which unites and empowers survivors of slavery around the world. Incubated in the Rights Lab, the Survivor Alliance focuses on leadership capacity-building for survivors.

To mark the report’s release, the Rights Lab has also launched a new collection of modern antislavery muralsand street art. The archive of more than 125 murals from around the world includes artwork from high and low slavery prevalence countries. Walk Free and the Rights Lab will release individual murals on social media over the coming weeks, accompanied by Index findings. 

The 2018 Index estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of modern slavery around the world. This represents a ‘stock’ estimate: people in slavery on any given day in 2016.

Modern slavery exists in all countries covered by the Global Slavery Index. The Index’s estimates place India as the country with highest absolute number of people in slavery, and North Korea as the country with the greatest estimated prevalence of modern slavery.

The national estimates presented in this year’s Global Slavery Index were calculated using individual and country-level risk factors of modern slavery. Estimation data were drawn from 54 surveys conducted in 48 countries, with a total sample of 71,158 individual interviews.

Sir Bernard Silverman, Professor of Modern Slavery Statistics with the Rights Lab, said: “Slavery is a hidden crime type and it is difficult to estimate its prevalence. I applaud the commitment of the Walk Free Foundation to work towards better data and better estimates.

“It is good that there has been a range of surveys to feed into the estimates. Inevitably the surveys tend to have been carried out in countries with higher prevalence; the numbers that the model produces for lower-prevalence countries are therefore likely to be more speculative, and the Index asks good questions for future research on those countries. In relative terms, any error bar on the aggregate total is, in any case, likely to be less than that on individual components.

“It is also interesting that the work reveals correlation between risk factors and prevalence; an obvious avenue for future work is to continue to refine the understanding of this relationship both for low and high-risk countries.”

Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery and the Research Director of the Rights Lab, said: “I’m proud to point to the leadership of the UK government in the fight against global slavery, its Modern Slavery Act isn’t perfect, but it stands as an example to other countries. The UK is in stark contrast to those countries that turn a blind eye to slavery, or worse, practice state-sponsored enslavement. While North Korea is the most serious example of a nation enslaving its own citizens, there are others that use the excuse of ethnicity or religion to remove rights and exploit those within their borders – all in violation of international law.

Equally important is the good news – this edition of the Global Slavery Index further reveals how all governments are responding to slavery, giving companies a guide to where to invest. The GSI also clarifies the risk slavery brings to all of us, through the products we buy, and points to specific actions to be taken to reduce that risk. Finally, the Walk Free research team continues to push forward the boundaries of how we can measure this hidden and slippery crime.”

The Global Slavery Index report can be found at

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