A terrifying new report just found modern slavery is on the rise

The United Nations’ study found a shocking 50 million people are living under conditions that meet the criteria for modern slavery.

Photo Taken In Thai Mueang, Thailand
Ayasanon Pongvit / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

One out of every 150 people is currently living under the conditions of modern slavery, according to a new and devastating report from the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. Worse yet, of the nearly 50 million people subjected to this inhumane practice, nearly nine million found themselves living under these conditions in the last five years — the result of the coronavirus pandemic, climate-related disaster, and a confluence of other factors that have created increasingly desperate circumstances.

The United Nations report focuses on two areas of modern slavery: There is forced labor, which more than 27.6 million people — including 3.3 million children — are currently subjected to, and there are forced marriages, which have trapped more than 22 million people. Both tracks of enslavement have seen a stark rise since 2016, and are present in all regions of the world. In fact, more than half of all forced labor identified by the UN was found to occur in upper-middle-income and high-income nations. Likewise, nearly one-in-four forced marriages happened in well-off nations.

Women are considerably more affected by these forms of modern slavery. Nearly half of the current population of forced laborers are women and girls, and two-thirds of all those subjected to forced marriages are women. The burden of women is even starker in the area of forced commercial sexual exploitation, where four out of every five victims is a woman or girl.

The unfortunate reality is that these situations are growing more common. The reasons for that are multi-pronged and complicated, but a major factor in the last few years was the prevalence of the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted much of the modern workforce and eroded the working conditions for money laborers around the world. Lacking work and experiencing debt, many workers were forced into slavery, made to work off what they supposedly owe.

Migrant workers have also been trapped into forced labor arrangements due to instability as they flee from worsening conditions elsewhere. Fleeing from political unrest and conflict or being forced from their home by extreme weather conditions and devastating storms that wipe out viable work and living conditions elsewhere, migrants are three times as likely to wind up subject to forced labor.

Addressing these conditions, which are growing increasingly common, will take a unified effort. Governments can focus on some of the material conditions that may lead to people being driven toward forced labor or marriages, but many of these situations are driven by a private economy — companies turning a blind eye to exploitation and families pushing their children into arranged marriages against the will of their child. Without a unified effort, modern slavery will persist.