Report: 20 of the world's richest economies, including the U.S., fuel forced labor

A worker carries a Chinese national flag to put it with those of other participating countries at the opening session of the G-20 foreign ministers meeting, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, March 2, 2023.
A worker carries a Chinese national flag to put it with those of other participating countries at the opening session of the G-20 foreign ministers meeting, in New Delhi, India on March 2.
Manish Swarup | AP

The world's 20 wealthiest economies accounted for about half of the people worldwide living in “modern slavery,” according to a new report.

The report released this week by Walk Free, an international human rights group, found that countries belonging to the Group of 20 major economies helped fuel forced labor through global supply chains and state-imposed forced labor. Between the 20 countries, they imported $468 billion worth of products possibly made by forced labor, with the U.S. making up nearly $170 billion of that, the report said.

“At its core, modern slavery is a manifestation of extreme inequality,” Walk Free Founding Director Grace Forrest said in a statement. “It is a mirror held to power, reflecting who in any given society has it and who does not. Nowhere is this paradox more present than in our global economy through transnational supply chains.”

The G-20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the U.K. the U.S. and the European Union.

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Imported products that were most considered “at risk” of being affected by modern slavery were electronics, clothing, palm oil, solar panels and textiles.

Last year, the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation joined with various U.N. agencies releasing a report stating that by 2021 the number of people enslaved around the world had grown to 50 million.

The 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery are North Korea, Eritrea, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, the report said.

Those countries have things in common, such as limited human and civil rights protections, political instability, or authoritarianism, Walk Free said.

The increase can also be attributed to climate change as more people are migrating due to intense weather events, leaving them more vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation, the report said.

“With 50 million people living in modern slavery today, this Global Slavery Index demands immediate action. Walk Free is calling on governments around the world to step up their efforts to end modern slavery on their shores and in their supply chains. We know the scale of the issue and have the knowledge and the policies needed to act. What we need now is political will.”

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