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More than 400,000 people could be living in modern slavery in the US, report says

A detailed report from the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimated as many as 400,000 people are living in conditions of modern slavery in the U.S. Some have criticized the report’s methodology in the past.
A detailed report from the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimated as many as 400,000 people are living in conditions of modern slavery in the U.S. Some have criticized the report’s methodology in the past. File

More than 400,000 people may still be living in modern day slavery across the United States, despite significant work from the U.S. government and other organizations in trying to crack down on human trafficking and forced labor, according to a new report.

The Global Slavery Index, which is published annually by the Walk Free Foundation, estimated that about 40.3 million people were living as modern-day slaves in 2016.

Most of the victims are estimated to live in Asia and the Pacific, with North Korea leading the world in slaves, according to the report. Other areas of high slavery concentrations included central Africa, central Asia and parts of Europe.

The new report uses new data to measure country-by-country levels more accurately, CNN reported, which led to some estimates being much higher and others being lower.

The report estimates as many as 403,000 people in the U.S. may be living in slavery, which is broadly defined as forced and state-imposed labor, sexual servitude and forced marriage.

“The United States is one of the most advanced countries in the world yet has more than 400,000 modern slaves working under forced labor conditions. This is a truly staggering statistic and demonstrates just how substantial this issue is globally. This is only possible through a tolerance of exploitation, ” Andrew Forrest, Founder of the Walk Free Foundation, said in a news release. He added that the U.S. exacerbated the global problem by importing products likely to have been made using forced labor.

The estimates were created using national surveys, databases of information of those who were assisted in trafficking cases, and reports from other agencies like the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency, according to the foundation. Some have criticized the report’s methods in the past, pointing to its broad definitions of slavery, its need to extrapolate data from small samples and other issues.

“We’re now measuring where a person was enslaved, as opposed to where they were interviewed or where we discovered their slavery,” Forrest told CNN.

Making such estimates of modern slavery victims is a challenge, the foundation said, but added that major improvements had been made in its ability to gather data. In 2017, the foundation partnered with ILO to help produce a report.

The organization did commend the United States for its efforts in combating the problem, saying only the Netherlands bested it in its Government Response Index measurement.

Walk Free made a few recommendations to the U.S. to help cut down the problem: make forced marriage illegal and create a minimum marriage age of 18, create a national database of trafficking and forced labor cases, work to ensure supply-chain transparency and invest in more training for law enforcement and other officials.

“There is no quick solution to this and governments, businesses and consumers alike must wake up to the fact that they must change their behavior if they wish to tackle this abhorrent issue, both at home and abroad,” Forrest wrote.

Arien Pauls, now an advocate for women and trafficking victims in the Central Valley, talks about the night she escaped her trafficker in Las Vegas.

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