World Facts

Countries With The Most Modern Slaves Today

Based on data from the UN Development Program, Walk Free Foundation, and Global Slavery Index, slavery is still a serious problem around our globe.

According to the Global Slavery Index (GSI), there are an estimated 35.8 million slaves around the world today. This modern day slavery is in many instances not all too different from that in medieval times, as people are still being owned as property by others in some countries around the world. However, unlike ancient forms where slaves were not paid at all, in modern day slavery payment may be there for those in bondage, though meager and riddled with exploitation. The International Labour Organization estimates that 26% of modern slaves are children. Adult male slaves, meanwhile, are often forced into labor due to financial debts, while females are often exploited for prostitution.

11. Bangladesh (343,000 modern slaves)

According to GSI, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis are modern day slaves. But the real number may be even higher, as 7.4 million children aged from 5 to 17 years old are in child labor, according to UNICEF. These children work in fisheries, agriculture, textile industry, mining, brick kilns, recycling, and garbage collection industries, among others. Young Bangladeshi girls also get tricked into working as house girls, where they are overworked, underpaid or not paid, and will at times be sexually abused. Children trafficked to neighboring countries like Thailand work as sex slaves or are used to smuggle drugs or guns. Human traffickers also smuggle men to countries like Thailand where they work for little to no pay in the exploitative, but lucrative, fishing sector there. In such countries, Bangladeshi illegal workers get into debt bondage and must work for long times for the benefit of their slave masters until their debts are paid, if they ever are. In Bangladesh, unsafe factories also collapse and kill those workers locked up inside them, most of whom are already working for very low wages.

10. Myanmar (384,000 modern slaves)

In Myanmar there are an estimated 384,000 modern day slaves according to the GSI report from 2013. The country abounds with trafficking, where men, women, and children alike are trafficked to such countries as Thailand, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, and Malaysia, where they face lives of sexual exploitation, domestic work, and other forced labor. Most of those trafficked end up in bonded labor or prostitution in those countries, though their original intention was searching for greener pastures. Thailand has become a haven for the sexual exploitation of young girls from Myanmar, who are tricked by promises that they will get jobs like waitresses or dishwashers, and earn well. But once they get to Thailand, they are closed up in brothels where they can’t escape, and are made into sex slaves. Men trafficked from Myanmar also end up as slaves in countries like Indonesia and Thailand, working for no pay, especially in the lucrative seafood industry in ships, as forced labor.

9. DR Congo (462,000 modern slaves)

Political instability is the core cause to explain why there are so many people in modern day slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) according to GSI. The current estimate of slaves there is equivalent to 1.13 percent of the country’s population. Locals displaced by wars often end up working as slaves in the country’s resource-rich mines, which are at times controlled by warlords or corrupt army officials. Men are trapped in debt bondage, from where they must work for food, accommodations, and to repay back their "employers’" money they borrowed to buy mining tools. This practice is especially prominent in the regions of North and South Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga, where deposits of gold, tin, coltan, and tantalum are found. Due to instability, women and young girls also fall prey to sexual exploitation, a form of slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is widely documented around much of the rest of the world.

8. Thailand (473,000 modern slaves)

Thailand is a choice destination for labor migrants. As most of them enter illegally without proper documentation, they become easy targets of forced labor. The country, according to GSI, has 473,000 people enslaved, mostly comprised by immigrants. These immigrants work in the fish, construction, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors for, at times, no pay. Of those, the fishing sector is the most culpable for slavery tendencies, as it's a multibillion-dollar industry annually where bottom lines come first at all cost, especially in the shrimp processing sector. Laborers from Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and elsewhere are tricked and trafficked to provide cheap or free labor in Thailand. Young girls also from those same countries are trafficked as well, and turned into sex slaves in Thai brothels.

7. Ethiopia (651,000 modern slaves)

As of 2013, in Ethiopia, 651,000 people were enslaved, though more recently GSI reports that there are about 389,700 slaves within the country. These slaves primarily work in the beef and textile industries. Ethiopia also has a big problem of child labor, which UNICEF reports as a form of modern day slavery. A number of economic factors encourage the practice of slavery in Ethiopia. When crops fail due to drought, especially in the northern regions of the country, rural to urban migrations ensue. Those who come to urban areas are compelled to work for meager pay to survive, which itself can lead to being trapped in a form of slavery. Another facet of migration happens when Ethiopians migrate abroad in search of work. In some instances in the Middle East, they work for very low pay in demanding, yet low skill, jobs, where they are exploited as well.

6. Nigeria (701,000 modern slaves)

Compared to the 701,000-strong figure for slaves in Nigeria from a few years ago, that number is still growing alongside the population. There are about 834,200 people working as slaves in Nigeria today, per the most recent reports, amounting to about 0.4805 percent of the country’s population. Boys from the country, according to GSI, are trafficked to work as juvenile slaves, often doing so as street vendors, domestic servants, or miners. They are also forced to work in stone quarries, farms, or as beggars around West Africa. Dubious young Nigerian girls also get tricked, as they will get jobs as nannies in Western countries but end up as sex slaves in cities in the United Kingdom, Italy, or Belgium. Others get into forced marriages or work as domestic servants, but are not paid as they are without legal immigration status, a fact that their employers exploit to enslave them. The issue of girls being abducted and turned into sex slaves is especially rampant in Northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram terrorists wreak havoc, and the consequent instability allows the slave trade to flourish.

5. Russia (1.0 million modern slaves)

Over a million people live in modern day Russia as slaves, equivalent to 0.7315 percent of the country’s population, according to GSI. These workers (often foreign migrants) work in forced labor situations in the agriculture, construction, textiles, and timber sectors, while women and children are suffer sexual exploitation. Brothels in Russia have girls trafficked as sex slaves from such neighboring countries as Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics. The country also serves as a transit point for men, women, and children trafficked into and out of countries like China,Oman, Bahrain, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea, where many are forced to work as slaves, or be used as commercial sex workers.

4. Uzbekistan (1.2 million modern slaves)

In the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan, 3.9729 percent of the population are under the shackles modern day slavery, according to GSI, equivalent to 1,201,400 people. Much of this slavery is concentrated in the cotton-growing agricultural sector, where there is state-sanctioned forced labor. The government forces over a million farmers to grow cotton, and forces them to harvest it every autumn for the state's benefit. According to anti-slavery advocacy groups, those wishing to avoid picking pay $200 to their local government, which is a huge burden to the very poor. These farmers are also forced to sell their cotton to the government at extremely low prices, yet the government, by way of exporting the cotton, earns over $1 billion in revenues depending on the world’s market prices, and this money goes into the country’s ruling elites' pockets. While picking the cotton, there have been illnesses reported, such as those due to malnutrition, after weeks of endless, tiring labor.

3. Pakistan (2.1 million modern slaves)

Debt slavery, or bonded labor, is the most rampant form of modern slavery in Pakistan, according to the Global Slavery Index, with the Punjab and Sindh provinces being the hot-spots for such practices. Nationally, 1.13 percent of the country’s population is enslaved today. Poor families become trapped into slavery when they approach an affluent person in need of a loan for an emergency like a sickness. The affluent person adds the entire family into his collection of “property” in return for providing medical financing. The family is forced to work for long hours for low wages, of which half is retained by the affluent person. This loan at times may take a generation or more to be repaid, and, until then, the whole family will still remain the property of the affluent person. In Pakistan it’s common for wealthy persons to own brick kilns, coal mines, and carpet-making factories, or to conduct agriculture, like the farming of cotton, wheat, or rice, with much of the work being carried out by forced labor. Brick kilns are the factories where much of this slavery occurs, and bond and free combined is reported to employ 4.5 million people in the country.

2. China (3.2 million modern slaves)

As of 2014, the Global Slavery Index reported China had 3.24 million slaves. Rapid modernization is cited as being the main driver for slavery in the country. These slaves work in construction, mines, heavy industries, and housekeeping. In 2013, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, 166 million people regarded as domestic migrants left their homes to go work elsewhere in China, and they included many women and children. That desperation exposes the poor migrants to forced labor, sexual exploitation, and forced marriages. Sexual slavery is also prominent in China, as young girls from countries like Cambodia and Vietnam are trafficked into China, and sold as brides into marriages that can be abusive.

1. India (14.3 million modern slaves)

India is regarded as the modern day slave capital of the world. According to Free the Slaves, the slave-holding culture is deeply entrenched there. Slaves work in brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery factories, quarries, farms, and private homes as servants. When one is unable to pay a debt, they are seized by the debtor and compelled to repay it through endless labor. Interest rates charged are high to ensure the slaves are never able to pay off the debts. Debts also have unreasonable terms, such as when the slave misses work due to sickness, the debt grows. A whole family, children included, can also be forced to work for the debtor. There is also sexual slavery in India. wherein young girls and women in debt sell their bodies on the red-light districts to be able to pay off debts. Much of this exploitation occurs in impoverished portions of Indian society, where uneducated people don’t even know they have any rights to protect the from such practices. In 2014, the Global Slavery Index reported India had 14.29 million slaves.

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