Modern Slavery on the Rise; 50 Million in 2021

Modern Slavery on the Rise; 50 Million in 2021

In the last five years, the number of people in modern slavery has risen significantly with forced labour and marriage increasing significantly during the period, according to a new UN report released on Monday.

Of the Fifty million people living in modern slavery in 2021, the report  Global Estimates of Modern Slavery said that 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriage. Ten million more people were driven into modern slavery in 2021 compared to 2016 global estimates. Women and children remain disproportionately vulnerable, said the study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and international human rights group Walk Free.

The authors said that modern slavery occurred in almost every country and cut across ethnic, cultural and religious lines. More than half (52 per cent) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages could be found in upper-middle income or high-income countries, they added.

 “It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

“Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights,” he said.


The report noted that most cases of forced labour(86 per cent) are found in private sector. Forced labour in sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 63 per cent of all forced labour, while forced commercial sexual exploitation represents 23 per cent of all forced labour. Almost four out of five of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.
It said that State-imposed forced labour accounts for 14 per cent of people in forced labour. Almost one in eight of all those in forced labour are children (3.3 million). More than half of these are in commercial sexual exploitation.

Guy Ryder said “we know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done. Effective national policies and regulation are fundamental”.

However, he said that the governments cannot do it alone. He mentioned that international standards provide “a sound basis,” and that an “all-hands-on-deck approach” is needed. “Trade unions, employers’ organizations, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play,” he said.


An estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriage on any given day in 2021. This indicates an increase of 6.6 million since the 2016 global estimates, the report said. 

The true incidence of forced marriage, particularly involving children aged 16 and younger, is likely far greater than current estimates can capture.

Forced marriage is closely linked to long-established patriarchal attitudes and practices and is highly context specific. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (more than 85 per cent) was driven by family pressure. Although two-thirds (65 per cent) of forced marriages are found in Asia and the Pacific, when regional population size is considered, the prevalence is highest in the Arab States, with 4.8 people out of every 1,000 in the region in forced marriage.


Migrant workers are over three times more likely in forced labour than other adult workers, the report said.  While labour migration has a largely positive effect on individuals, households, communities and societies, irregular or poorly governed migration, or unfair and unethical recruitment practices render migrants particularly vulnerable.

Meanwhile, IOM Director-General António Vitorino said “this report underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly, and regular. Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and trafficking in persons depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants – and potential migrants – at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status. The whole of society must work together to reverse these shocking trends, including through implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.” 

Grace Forrest, Founding Director of Walk Free, said: “Modern slavery is the antithesis of sustainable development. Yet, in 2022, it continues to underpin our global economy. It is a man-made problem, connected to both historical slavery and persisting structural inequality. In a time of compounding crises, genuine political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses.”


The report proposes a number of recommended actions which, taken together and swiftly, would mark significant progress towards ending modern slavery.

They include: improving and enforcing laws and labour inspections; ending state-imposed forced labour; stronger measures to combat forced labour and trafficking in business and supply chains; extending social protection, and strengthening legal protections, including raising the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception. Other measures include addressing the increased risk of trafficking and forced labour for migrant workers, promoting fair and ethical recruitment, and greater support for women, girls and vulnerable individuals.


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