modern slavery

The Global Estimates, explained

Did you know that, today, 50 million people are in situations of modern slavery? That’s nearly 1 out of every 150 people in the world.

What are their stories?


When he was only 16, Ran, now in his eighties, took a $20 loan from a landowner. To repay his debt, he ploughed the landowner’s field for years until his government freed him. For years, the fruit of his labour belonged to someone else. He couldn’t leave, he couldn’t take a day off, he couldn’t stop. He was in bonded labour.


When she was also just 16, Bianca was taken from the village where she grew up. From there, she was trafficked and sold five times before arriving in a nearby country, where she was kept behind bars and made to work as a prostitute. When she became pregnant, she managed to escape to a shelter, where her baby, Anne-Marie, was born.


After signing a contract with a recruitment agency in her home country, Ida travelled abroad where she was promised a job as a domestic worker. When she got there, her employers confiscated her passport. She was made to work very long days, had to sleep on the floor and eat leftovers. For three years, she was kept a prisoner and only managed to escape by jumping out of a window. After weeks in hospital, she was finally sent home, limping, penniless, and scarred for life.

Stories of modern slavery like those of Ran, Bianca, and Ida are unfortunately not rare. Today, slavery persists around the world, occuring in the world of work, as in the case of forced labour, or outside, as in the case of forced marriage. And the challenge of modern slavery appears to be growing. Millions of additional people – women, men, girls and boys – have fallen victim to forced labour or forced marriage in recent years.

I don’t have a legal working permit, so they can tell the police.
26-year-old woman (accommodation and food services)
I was forced to work in order to pay the loans.
32-year-old woman (tailoring)
I was forced to work on the farm until the work was finished, even after normal working hours and without additional wages.
56-year-old man (agriculture)
I was forced to do excessive work to clear the debt.
50-year-old man (textile industry)
They threatened not to pay him.
30-year-old woman reporting about her brother (construction)
I worked without pay, alone, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
32-year-old woman (tailoring)
She forced me to clean or else she would have killed me.
25-year-old woman (domestic work)
We either work or [they] will prevent us from working anywhere else.
25-year-old man (construction)
I was forced to pay debt.
53-year-old man (fishing)

source: USDOL-Funded Bridge Project

What should I know
about modern slavery?

Modern slavery covers a complex set of legal concepts including: forced labour, debt bondage, slavery, human trafficking, forced marriage. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave – threats, violence, coercion, deception, and abuse of power all play a part.

Researchers from the International Labour Organization, Walk Free, and the International Organization for Migration developed a methodology to calculate global estimates of two key forms of modern slavery:

Forced Labour and Forced Marriage

Forced labour is defined, for purposes of measurement, as work that is undertaken both under the threat of any penalty and is involuntary.

Forced marriage refers to situations where a person has been forced to marry without giving their consent.

Both can be found in various forms in almost all countries and economic activities.

These estimates express the number of people in modern slavery as a total or the proportion of the population.

Number of people in modern slaveryPrevalence of modern slaveryNote:‰ denotes cases per thousand population6.4‰World49.6mWorldMale22.8mMale5.8‰Female26.7mFemale6.9‰Adults37.3mAdults6.9‰Children12.3mChildren5.2‰Africa7.0mAfrica5.2‰Americas5.1mAmericas5.0‰Arab States1.7mArab States10.1‰Asia and the Pacific29.3mAsia and the Pacific6.8‰Europa and Central Asia6.4mEuropa and Central Asia6.9‰7.2mHigh incomeHigh income5.9‰12.7mUpper-middle incomeUpper-middle income4.4‰Lower-middle income23.0mLower-middle income7.8‰Low income6.6mLow income9.6‰
Note: ‰ denotes cases per thousand population.

In recent years, the number of people in modern slavery has risen by about 9.3 million.

The situation is getting worse, driven in part by the social and economic shock waves from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Both categories of modern slavery rose over the period 2016 to 2021. The latest estimates indicate that forced labour accounts for 27.6 million of those in modern slavery and forced marriage for 22 million.


No region in the world is spared from modern slavery.

Asia and the Pacific is host to more than half of the global total: 29.3 million. When forced labour is expressed as a proportion of the population it is highest in the Arab States: 10.1 per thousand people.

Note: ‰ denotes cases per thousand population.

Africa5.2Americas5.0ArabStates10.1Asia and the Pacific6.8EuropeandCentralAsia6.9

Is there any good news?


  • Additional countries have ratified conventions, adopted laws and implemented policies to prevent modern slavery and protect victims.
  • More and more actors - including governments, employers, trade unions, and civil society - are gaining knowledge and gathering evidence about what works.
  • Workers are better informed about their rights and better able to advocate for themselves.

Specific examples include:

  • In Nepal, more than 1,100 former bonded labourers have received skills training from the ILO, which they are using to find better work.
  • In Niger, more than 1,500 children of Wahaya women and other descendants of enslaved people have received birth certificates and school kits.
  • In Peru, the penal code was amended to make forced labour illegal.
  • In Malaysia, a new National Action Plan was adopted to address forced labour (2021-2025).
  • A total of 59 countries have ratified the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour.

Through the Sustainable Development Goals, the global community is committed to ending modern slavery among children by 2025, and universally by 2030. Of course, we can only fulfill that goal if we work harder. We only have a few years left.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, and climate change, our shared goals have been disrupted. Employment and education have suffered, extreme poverty and discrimination have increased, and there has been an upsurge in reports of gender-based violence. As is usually the case, the most vulnerable have been most affected.

That’s why it’s urgent that the global community gathers the will and resources to get progress towards ending modern slavery back on track.

A whole of society approach is needed – civil society, labour rights advocates, workers, businesses, investors, survivor groups, and an array of other actors have critical roles to play.

Promises are not enough. It’s time for cooperative efforts and dialogue for consensus-based solutions to this immense challenge.

How can I help?

Educate yourself about forced labour.

Take a quiz to test your knowledge.

Read a story about modern slavery and share it on social media.

Ask questions about the rights and working conditions of those who made the products you buy.

Make responsible investments.

Volunteer your time when you can.


Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates on child labour and forced labour.

Join us

Sign up for our newsletter to get a curated list of news, stories, and events delivered to your inbox.

Read more

Explore all the interactive stories by Alliance 8.7.

The time is now. Together, as a global community, we can tackle the root causes of modern slavery and provide opportunities for decent work for all.