King City, California, April 2020. Socially-distanced migrant farm labourers rest in their dormitory. Restrictions on movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with rising unemployment rates, poverty, and inequality across the United States, exposed vulnerable workers to greater risks of exploitation. Photo Credit: Brent Stirton. Getty Images.
Global Slavery Index

Regional Overview

What is the extent and nature of modern slavery across the world’s regions?

Globally, nearly one in every 150 people are in modern slavery. Modern slavery affects every region in the world. More than half the men, women, and children living in modern slavery globally are in the Asia and the Pacific region (29.3 million). However, when the size of regional populations is considered, prevalence of modern slavery is highest in the Arab States (10.1 per thousand people) (Figure 1). This is followed by Europe and Central Asia (6.9 per thousand), Asia and the Pacific (6.8 per thousand), Africa (5.2 per thousand), and the Americas (5 per thousand).

Although comparisons between regions are impacted by data gaps, particularly in countries experiencing profound and current conflict (see Appendix 2: Part A for a fuller discussion of limitations), interesting differences emerge when forced labour and forced marriage are considered separately. For forced labour, Arab States has the highest prevalence (5.3 per thousand people), followed by Europe and Central Asia (4.4 per thousand). The prevalence of forced labour is lowest in Africa (2.9 per thousand). For forced marriage, prevalence is again highest in the Arab States (4.8 per thousand), followed by Asia and the Pacific (3.3 per thousand), and lowest in the Americas (1.5 per thousand).

At the regional level, the impact of conflict and state-imposed forced labour on prevalence of modern slavery remains consistent with the global findings, with the highest prevalence occurring in countries with several reports of state-imposed forced labour or are otherwise impacted by protracted or recent conflict. The countries with highest prevalence across the regions include Eritrea, Mauritania, and South Sudan (Africa); Venezuela, Haiti, and El Salvador (Americas); Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait (Arab States); North Korea, Afghanistan, and Myanmar (Asia and the Pacific); and Türkiye, Tajikistan, and Russia (Europe and Central Asia).

Figure 1: Prevalence of modern slavery (per 1,000 people), by region and type

What drives vulnerability to modern slavery across the world’s regions?

Improving our understanding of which factors increase vulnerability to modern slavery is essential to developing and implementing successful interventions. Our assessment of country-level risk factors covers five dimensions — governance issues, lack of basic needs, inequality, disenfranchised groups, and effects of conflict — and is scored as a percentage where 100 represents extremely high vulnerability (see Appendix 2: Part B).

A regional analysis of our vulnerability measures suggests higher risk of modern slavery in Africa and the Americas than is evident in the prevalence data (Table 1). Africa has the highest vulnerability (64 per cent) of any region, despite having relatively low prevalence scores for both forced labour and forced marriage. The lowest levels of vulnerability are found in Europe and Central Asia (27 per cent). While regional risk differs across the dimensions, every region performs poorly on measures of acceptance of minority groups. In Europe and Central Asia, where there is relatively strong governance, access to basic needs, and low levels of inequality, there remain gaps in protection on the basis of migration status, sexual orientation, and racial and ethnic groups. Figure 2 shows how countries in the region scored in relation to the regional average on each dimension of vulnerability.

Table 1: Level of vulnerability to modern slavery, by region and dimension
Regions Governance issues (%) Lack of basic needs (%) Inequality (%) Disenfranchised groups (%) Effects of conflict (%) Total (%)
Africa 61 53 52 70 37 64
Americas 44 35 55 52 25 44
Arab States 60 38 40 71 40 56
Asia and the Pacific 48 42 39 61 35 48
Europe and Central Asia 31 25 30 51 23 27
Figure 2: Level of vulnerability to modern slavery with regional averages

What are governments across the world’s region doing to address modern slavery?

Our assessment of government responses to modern slavery covers five milestones of a strong response — identification and support for survivors, effectiveness of criminal justice mechanisms, national and regional level coordination, efforts to address underlying risk, and government and business supply chains. This is scored as a percentage, where 100 represents the strongest possible response.

Europe and Central Asia has the strongest response to modern slavery, with an average score of 54 per cent. These governments, particularly those from the European subregion, generally had both high levels of political will to combat the issue and the required resources to enact comprehensive responses. Comparatively strong legal frameworks, including on monitoring business supply chains (for which scores were profoundly low across all regions), characterised the responses of these governments. However, there is not much difference in these scores in comparison to 2018; the actions of many governments in this region had largely stagnated due to competing priorities in the intervening years.

The Americas region has the second strongest response to modern slavery, reflecting continued improvements in both criminal justice frameworks and coordination of support services. The Arab States, while having the highest prevalence of modern slavery, has an average government response score of 43 per cent, driven by significant improvements in planning and coordination of responses against modern slavery, but also reflecting that few governments in the region are directly tackling the vulnerabilities associated with the kafala system.

While Africa has the lowest average government response score across the regions, it is outperforming Arab States on criminal justice mechanisms (Table 2). Average scores also hide great regional variability with some nations in Africa (Nigeria and South Africa) performing at a similar level to European nations. Implementing more comprehensive responses to combat modern slavery is still limited across all regions by resource constraints and the multiple and converging crises, such as ongoing conflicts, climate change, and the slow recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Table 2: Government response score, by region and milestone
Regions Survivors identified and supported (%) Criminal justice mechanisms (%) National and regional level coordination (%) Risk factors are addressed (%) Government and business supply chains (%) Total (%)
Africa 34 46 42 37 1 36
Americas 46 58 56 52 5 48
Arab States 51 45 56 48 0 43
Asia and the Pacific 38 48 51 45 4 40
Europe and Central Asia 54 62 64 58 17 54
Figure 3: Government response score with regional averages

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