By Robin Millard, AFP
LONDON–An estimated 30 million people worldwide are living in modern-day slavery, according to the inaugural Global Slavery Index published Thursday. The index, compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, said that while India by far had the largest number of enslaved people, the problem was most prevalent in the west African nation of Mauritania, where four percent of the population was deemed to be held in slavery. The WFF hopes the annual index will help governments to monitor and tackle what it calls a “hidden crime.” “A lot of governments won’t like hearing what we have to say,” chief executive Nick Grono told AFP. “Those governments that want to engage with us, we will be very open to engaging and looking at ways in which we can better measure the issue of modern slavery.” Established in May last year, the WFF is a 20-strong team based in Perth on the Australian west coast, founded by philanthropists Andrew Forrest — the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group — and his wife Nicola.
It has the backing of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, current Australian PM Tony Abbott and philanthropists Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mo Ibrahim. The foundation’s definition of modern slavery includes slavery itself, plus slavery-like practices — such as debt bondage, forced marriage and the sale or exploitation of children — human trafficking and forced labor. “A lot of people are very surprised to hear that slavery still exists,” said Grono, explaining how many people assume it ended when the Atlantic slave trade was abolished in the 1800s. “What modern slavery is is a situation that reflects all of the characteristics of slavery of past centuries,” he said. “People are controlled by violence. They are tricked or they are forced into jobs or situations where they are economically exploited. They live on no pay or base subsistence pay and they’re not free to leave.”