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24 May 2023

Global: Global Slavery Index 2023 finds limited progress to eradicating modern slavery & forced labour

In May 2023, Walk Free published the Global Slavery Index 2023, a flagship report published every five years, to evaluate the global situation regarding modern slavery and forced labour, and progress made.

The report estimates that 50 million people globally were living in modern slavery on any given day in 2021, and found that compounding crises, such as COVID-19, armed conflicts, environmental degradation, and assaults on democracy, heightened risks of modern slavery, and impacted progress to eradicating it.

Countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery in 2021 shared some similar political, social and economic characteristics, such as political instalibility, conflict and/or authoritarianism. In some countries, the government forces citizens to work in different sectors, private prisons or through forced conscription. Others countries are home to large numbers of refugees or migrant workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation. Some countries also have inherited systems of hereditary slavery which continue to be practiced.

Women, children and migrants remained disproportionately affected by modern slavery, and those belonging to multiple marginalised groups faced even greater risks.

Forced labour occurred mostly in lower-middle and upper-middle income countries, with a deep connection to demand from higher-income countries via complex and opaque supply chains. Purchasing practices of wealthier governments and businesses was found to fuel exploitation in lower-income countries in supply chains, with G20 nations accounting for more than 75% of the world's trade.

Among government responses to modern slavery, Australia's Modern Slavery Act was found to have the most notable improvement, which requires certain companies to report on modern slavery risks in their supply chain and actions they are taking to respond. However, overall improvements among governments to address modern slavery since the previous Global Slavery Index assessments in 2018 were far fewer and weaker than the situation requires.