Walk Free Foundation (Perth)

African Countries Top List of Worst Performers in Inaugural Global Slavery Index

press release

Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN
Seyinna Gababe, un village à 18 km de Kaédi (Mauritanie)

Mauritania has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, according to the inaugural Global Slavery Index, with 14 other African countries also among the 20 worst performers.

The Index, which will be published annually, is the first of its kind and gives the most accurate and comprehensive measure of the extent and risk of modern slavery, country by country, currently available.

Mauritania is ranked worst on the Index, with the highest estimated proportion of its population enslaved of any country in the world. The West African country, with its deeply entrenched system of hereditary slavery, is thought to have an estimated 150,000 slaves in a population of only 3.8 million. Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia and Gabon follow Mauritania in the top ten of the Index.

The research, which makes recommendations to policy makers in Africa and around the world, reveals:

Extreme poverty, conflict and traditional practices such as child marriage and hereditary slavery are all factors in the high rates of enslavement in many African countries.

Kenya is host to thousands of displaced people from neighbouring countries including Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia. These migrants, often irregular, can be subjected to slavery like conditions. Also, Kenyans are known to have been exploited in countries overseas.

In terms of top performers, Mauritius ranks 143 out of 162 on the Index and leads the region in terms of stability and the protection of human and worker rights. South Africa is ranked 115 and is also singled out for praise by the report for its anti-slavery policies.

The Index estimates that over 29 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery worldwide. Haiti, a Caribbean nation where child slavery is also widespread, follows Mauritania in second place on the Index, with Pakistan in third. The report estimates that almost three quarters of the world’s slaves are in Asia, with 14.7 million in India alone and another 2.9m in China.

“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent. This is the first slavery index but it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world. We now know that just ten countries are home to over three quarters of those trapped in modern slavery. These nations must be the focus of global efforts,” said Nick Grono, CEO of Walk Free Foundation.

“Most governments don’t dig deeply into slavery for a lot of bad reasons. There are exceptions, but many governments don’t want to know about people who can’t vote, who are hidden away, and are likely to be illegal anyway. The laws are in place, but the tools and resources and the political will are lacking. And since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The Index aims to change that,” said Professor Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the Index.

About The Index

In 2013, modern slavery takes many forms, and is known by many names. Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labour, slavery or slavery-like practices (a category that includes debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict) victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied, and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex, or the thrill of domination.

The modern slavery prevalence estimates are a combined measure of three factors; the estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage and data from human trafficking in and out of a country. When combined they produce the most detailed global picture of the numbers of enslaved people currently available.

The Index also identifies factors that shed light on the risk of modern slavery in each country and examines the strength of government responses in tackling this issue for the 20 countries at the top and bottom of the Index ranking. The Index examines the priority given to rooting out modern slavery, the methods used to address the problem, and how they could be improved for each country.

The Global Slavery Index was created in consultation with an international panel of experts from international organisations, think tanks and academic institutions. The Index has been endorsed by individuals including Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Julia Gillard; and leading philanthropists, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and Mo Ibrahim, as well as academics, business leaders, and policy makers.

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