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Summary of the 2022 Global Slavery Index

5 years have passed since the last Global Slavery Index, and last week the ILO, IOM, and Walk Free released their latest estimates. They do not make for easy reading - the research claims that 49.6 million people are in modern slavery on any given day, up from 40.3 million 5 years ago.

This sharp rise is driven by a steep increase in forced marriage (from roughly 16 million victims to 22 million), with forced labour numbers also up, from roughly 25 million to almost 28 million.

Overall causes

The report describes the concerning rise as the result of ‘compounding crises’ (p.1), identified as the pandemic, armed conflict, and increases in extreme poverty, unsafe migration and gender-based violence. It refers to modern slavery as being ‘overwhelmingly concentrated’ in the informal economy, where these crises have hit the hardest (p.79). The developments have pushed millions of people into even more treacherous circumstances, and considerably increased the number of people in various forms of slavery.


Throughout the report, analysis is split between forced labour and forced marriage, and the 49.6 million figure is the sum of these components. There are a number of noteworthy details in the breakdown of the estimates.

The first is that slavery retains significant gender dynamics. More than two thirds of the estimated total victims of forced marriage are women, with 7 million men affected and over 14 million women (p.17). It is also worth noting that almost 9 million victims of forced marriage are children, making up well over a third of the total number. In the forced labour estimate, men make up the majority of victims, with 15.7 million men and 11.8 million women reportedly in forced labour (p.17).

Another noteworthy conclusion is the intense pervasiveness of the problem across different societies and sectors. For this year’s estimates, victim numbers were broken down depending on the income level of the country. This included an analysis of supply chain destinations - in the report’s words, ‘richer countries can be connected to forced labour through global supply chains, even if the actual forced labour occurs elsewhere’ (p.28). When this analytical filter is applied, a majority (52%) of victims are associated with either high-income countries or higher-middle income countries (p.29). The pervasiveness is also present when sectors are compared - slavery is alarmingly present right across the private economy (p.3). The highest numbers are in the service sector, which includes trade, transport, and hospitality sectors amongst others (pp.30-31). Prevalence rates are particularly high in construction and manufacturing (p.4).

The private economy is where the majority of forced labour cases are located, but almost 4 million people are now in state-imposed forced labour (p.25), and over 6 million people are victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation, which is counted separately from the private economy. Asia and the Pacific is host to over 15 million cases of forced labour, and just over 14 million cases of forced marriage, making it the clear ‘leader’ in both categories, although this is reflective of population levels. In terms of prevalence, the Arab states have the highest forced marriage and forced labour rates per capita (pp.3-5).


After summarising the geographical, demographic, and numerical extent of global slavery, the report analyses relative vulnerability to slavery - who ends up in slavery and how it happens.

Forced Labour

For those in forced labour, involuntariness (the key feature of slavery) manifests most commonly in excessive, non-consensual labour demands, low or no wages, hazardous conditions, different forms of labour than what was agreed, and a lack of freedom to leave (often the result of withholding papers) (p.40).

Men are more likely to be in situations of forced labour, and it is particularly prevalent in the manufacturing and construction sectors (p.4). Migrants are especially vulnerable - the report finds that the ‘forced labour prevalence of adult migrant workers is more than three times that of adult non-migrant workers’ (p. 4), wholly justifying migrant-focussed prevention schemes.

Victims of state-imposed forced labour are overwhelmingly likely to be exploited prisoners (56%) or military conscripts (27%) (p.51). It should be remembered that those counted as imprisoned and exploited are not necessarily criminals.

In 2020, there were 452 million children living in conflict zones (p.74), and child soldiering has become one of the most common forms of exploitation for children globally, along with domestic servitude, forced marriage, and forced begging (pp.48-50). Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban was brought up as a specific example of a serious increased danger for children (p.74).

Forced Marriage

The considerable rise in forced marriage (6 million increase) has harmed children - nearly a quarter of all females forced to marry were under the age of 16 at the time of marriage (p.68). The main causes for the rise in forced marriage are identified as increases in extreme poverty, lower education rates, increased distress migration, and an increase in gender-based violence (pp.59-61).

Family members are responsible for an overwhelming amount of forced marriages, with parents alone being responsible for 73.1% of the global total (p.70). Forced marriage coercion manifests in different ways, with the leading global cause being emotional threats or verbal abuse (52.9%), ahead of physical/sexual violence (19.2%), and kidnapping/forced travelling (9.5%) (p.71).

The report also notes that victims of forced marriage are at a much greater risk of further exploitation. 43% of victims were reported to have suffered some sort of exploitation after being forced to marry - the leading form being excessive domestic labour/servitude (18.7% of total victims), ahead of domestic service for other family members (5.6%), rape (4.5% - the report uses the phrase ‘forced to engage in sexual intercourse with the spouse’), forced labour in a family business (6.1%), and forced child-bearing. There are gendered variances to these outcomes (p.73).


The report gives significant attention to prevention strategies. Broadly, there is a strong emphasis on extending protections into the informal economy. The report encourages labour organisation in the informal economy, and argues this is possible - alluding to successful cases of organised labour with brick kiln workers, domestic workers, and fishermen (p.79). Protection more generally must also include better social services, which can allow workers to quit abusive circumstances, and alleviate reliance on moneylenders (p.80). The report also mentions strengthening ethical recruitment regulation (p.82), protecting freed peoples (who are often at severe risk of falling back into exploitation), and increased resources being dedicated to enforcement and prosecution (p.87).

In many cases, nations need both better enforcement and better legal frameworks. A third of nations lack laws that ‘define, criminalise, and assign adequate penalties for forced labour, human trafficking, or both’ (p.87). A key part of this legal framework is the clear separation of trafficking cases and migration and asylum issues (p.88). The report argues the vulnerability of migrants ‘cannot be separated from the broader political discourse about migration and asylum’ (p.88). The report also emphasises the need for specific protections for children (p.90).

The report goes on to discuss supply chains, arguing for the need for integrating rights-based due diligence. Government procurement can be influential here, and governments are encouraged to ‘leverage the economic importance of public procurement to encourage due diligence practices on the part of government suppliers’ (p.94). This follows on from Arise’s NHS procurement campaign to outlaw forced labour from NHS supply chains.

Throughout the prevention section, the importance of collaboration is discussed, calling for global partnerships and the facilitation of local collaborative work. The report stresses the effectiveness of ‘pre-established mechanisms of collaboration between anti-trafficking experts and humanitarian practitioners working in crisis zones’, which can ‘play an important role in ensuring risks are addressed’ (p.91). This is a ringing endorsement of the network-based model Arise employs overseas.

Other important preventative measures include research and data collection (p.97), and confronting the underlying socio-cultural structures that perpetuate existing power structures (p.102). Forced marriage, according to the report, is perpetuated by such patriarchal structures, that compound vulnerability by limiting access to sexual and reproductive health services, which are necessary for the prevention of adolescent pregnancy and child marriage (p.102). The report notes that religious groups can have a ‘profound effect’ on tackling the norms that drive forced marriage (p.102), and also emphasises investment in women’s economic agency (p.103).


The methodology is ‘essentially the same’ as that of 2017, with ‘some improvements on the scope and statistical treatment of the underlying data’ (p.109). Estimate comparisons at a disaggregated level should not be made, but global-level comparisons are possible (p.109). The forced labour estimates were compiled from surveys in 68 nations, totalling around 78,000 respondents (p.110). Forced marriage estimates were compiled from 75 national surveys and almost 110,000 respondents (p.112). Estimates for nations where no surveys were carried out (the majority) were produced using a new imputation model, from which more accurate results are expected.


Trying to establish global slavery numbers is a complex endeavour, and the GSI deserves some credit for undertaking the task. Naturally, production of the estimates requires modelling and extrapolation on a wide scale, and so specific numbers should not be obsessed over. The value of this report lies in its observations of trends and patterns, and its ability to communicate the scale of the issue - which is getting worse.

The 2022 GSI reminds us, once again, that progress should not be presupposed. A number of global challenges have compounded, resulting in a steep increase in slavery. This must not dissuade those working to end slavery - the sector is needed more than ever. We must embrace the power of collaboration - sharing knowledge, resources, and strategies - to begin to reverse these tragic developments. We must also pay attention to the crises causing these regrettable increases, and confront them head on. For instance, we cannot eradicate slavery without fighting poverty, dismantling oppressive patriarchal structures, ending conflicts, and ensuring education is universally accessible. Click here to follow our long-term prevention work.

Fraser Maclean, Arise Communications & Relationships Officer

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