The number of people in modern slavery has increased significantly over the past five years, as shown by new research from international organizations. By 2021, 10 million more people were victims of modern slavery than in 2016. Women and children remain particularly vulnerable. According to the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, fifty million people lived in modern slavery in 2021. This included 28 million people who were victims of forced labour and 22 million who were in forced marriages. Modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world and cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious divides. More than half (52%) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages occur in upper-middle-income or high-income countries.

Forced labour

Most cases of forced labour (86%) occur in the private sector. These include the following five sectors in particular: service sector, industry, construction, agriculture (excluding fishing) and domestic work. Forced labour in sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 63% of all forced labour, while forced commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 23% of all forced labour. Nearly four out of five victims of forced labour in the sex industry are women or girls. Fourteen percent of modern slaves perform state-imposed forced labour. Nearly one in eight people in forced labour are children (3.3 million). More than half of them are forced to work in the sex industry.

Forced labourper thousand people
Arab Emirates5,3
Europe4,4
Central Asia4,4
North and South America3,5
Azia3,5
Asia-Pacific region3,5
Africa2,9

Forced marriage

In 2021, an estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriages. This indicates an increase of 6.6 million over 2016 global estimates. The actual number of forced marriages, especially of children aged 16 and under, is likely much higher than current estimates: these are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages. Child marriages are considered forced because a child cannot legally consent to the marriage.

Modern slavery is the antithesis of sustainable development

Modern slavery remains a major phenomenon in our global economy in 2022. It is a man-made problem linked to both historical slavery and persistent structural inequality. In times of severe crisis, real political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses. We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done. Effective national policies and regulations are fundamental. Governments cannot do this alone. International standards provide a solid foundation, and everyone must take action. Trade unions, employers’ organizations, civil society and ordinary people all play a crucial role.

The situation in the Netherlands

Also people in the Netherlands live in slavery today. According to Human.nl, exact numbers are hard to come by. It is estimated that about 5,000 people in the Netherlands are victims of modern slavery every year. The latest estimate regarding the Netherlands from the 2018 Global Slavery Index, however, cites a number of 30,000 people. How big the problem of labour exploitation in the Netherlands is, remains unknown. This is due to poor monitoring. Estimates range from two thousand to 21,000 victims. The number of victims is likely to increase in the coming years due to migration and flexibilization, the National Police predicted in 2017. 

Labour exploitation takes place most often in housing, agriculture, forestry, fishing, meat processing, catering and domestic work. It mainly involves people from Eastern Europe. They are often people who depend on their employer or intermediary for more than one element in life. For example, they also receive housing, food and transportation. If they then want to rebel against workplace exploitation, they would also lose their shelter and safety net. 

People guilty of slavery almost always go free

Exploiters are becoming more cunning and investigations take a long time because the prosecution wants to arrest the main person responsible and not just the people who work for them. Victims also often do not report them because they do not see themselves as victims. In the country of origin, conditions are often much worse. In addition, victims are often afraid of the police because they have had bad experiences with the police in their home country or because they do not want to be sent back. According to the Walk Free Foundation, the main breeding ground for slavery is not poverty, as is often thought, but corruption. Because of bribery and conflicts of interest, laws against slavery are often not enforced. 

Sources

Wereld telt 50 miljoen moderne slaven: https://www.ilo.org/brussels/information-resources/news/WCMS_855415/lang–nl/index.htm

Ook in Nederland leven mensen in moderne slavernij: https://www.human.nl/lees/2021/dec/moderne-slavernij-in-nederland.html#:~:text=2%20december%20is%20de%20Internationale,nog%20mensen%20in%20moderne%20slavernij.

Wie helpen wij?: https://www.fairwork.nu/wie-helpen-wij/

WE ARE ENDING MODERN SLAVERY: https://www.walkfree.org/

Nederland koploper bij aanpak uitbuiting, maar ook hier 30.000 ‘slaven’: https://nos.nl/artikel/2242337-nederland-koploper-bij-aanpak-uitbuiting-maar-ook-hier-30-000-slaven

De Rekenkamer oordeelt hard over de Arbeidsinspectie: https://www.groene.nl/artikel/de-rekenkamer-oordeelt-hard-over-de-arbeidsinspectie