Beats | September 27, 2017

Building evidence on modern slavery

The team at


If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. That’s the theme of the week.

When it comes to modern slavery, human trafficking and child labor — the targets of Sustainable Development Goal №8.7 — measurement is easier said than done. The absence of hard data on these problems has led to criticism by the Washington Post, the Guardian and other outlets.

A new report, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, produced by Walk Free and the International Labor Organization, aims fill some of the gap in data.

To get a more complete picture, it collected numbers from the UN’s International Office for Migration and other UN agencies and conducted interviews with more than 71,000 people across 48 countries, expanding on a previous data set that looked at just 19 countries.

The results are shocking. It finds that about 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery, which can include debt bondage, serfdom, forced marriage and exploitation of children. That amounts to 5.4 people out of every 1,000 in 2016. One out of four is a child. About 16 million work for private employers in the domestic sector, construction or agriculture.

Nearly 5 million are victims of sexual exploitation, and 4 million are in state-imposed labor. Another 15.4 million are in a forced marriage. Women and girls are disproportionately affected, accounting for 71% of the overall total. Forced labor was highest in Africa, and more than one million children under 18 suffered sexual exploitation.

The researchers admit that more evidence is still needed to guide policy responses. While data is important, so are solutions: The report calls for stronger social protections, extending labor rights in the informal economy, addressing the root causes of debt bondage, improving migration governance, and improved victim identification.