The number of people living in modern slavery in the US is seven times higher than in 2014, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index report. Modern slavery is often a hidden crime, associated with forced or state-imposed labor, human trafficking, sexual servitude, and marriage. The report noted that the US “does not provide one definitive set of statistics on identified victims,” due to federal privacy laws and agency policies; nonetheless, the Global Slavery Index (GSI) report indicated that figures for the US had increased from an estimated 60,000 people in 2014 to 403,000 people in 2016.
As the Guardian reported, the GSI report argued that the US figures understate the US’s role in contributing to the global slavery problem, because the US imports many products—including laptop computers, mobile phones, clothing, fish, cocoa and timber—that are “at risk of being produced through forced labor.”
The GSI report made specific recommendations for how the US government could strengthen legislation, improve victim support, strengthen coordination and transparency, address risk factors, and eradicate modern slavery from the economy.
The Global Slavery Index is published by the Walk Free Foundation in Australia. GSI ranks countries by calculating the vulnerability of individuals within each country to enslavement, measuring the total number of slaves in every country, and assessing the overall quality of government responses to modern slavery.
The 2018 report shows surprisingly high numbers of modern slavery in developed nations, but a universal legal definition of ‘modern slavery’ has yet to be determined. Lack of consensus on use of the phrase contributes to lack of awareness and inaction in efforts to prevent modern slavery.
The Guardian and the New York Times covered the GSI report when it was released in July 2018, but there has been little coverage of the report since it was issued. The few articles that are published failed to mention the large increase in US estimates and tended to focus on global figures, including North Korea’s high prevalence of modern slavery. In March 2019 a Forbes article that reported on the United Nation’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade drew from the GSI report, but also noted that statistics regarding modern day slavery have “limitations.”
Source: Edward Helmore, “Over 400,000 People Living in ‘Modern Slavery’ in US, Report Finds,” The Guardian, July 19, 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/19/us-modern-slavery-report-global-slavery-index.
Student Researcher: Hogan Reed (University of Vermont)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)