Slavery Today

It isn’t legal anywhere but happens almost everywhere—including Europe and the U.S. Slaves are forced to work, without pay, under the threat of violence. They cannot walk away.

Slavery Is Everywhere

There are tens of millions of people trapped in various forms of slavery throughout the world today. Researchers estimate that 40 million are enslaved worldwide, generating $150 billion each year in illicit profits for traffickers.

  • Labor Slavery. About 50 percent (21 million) toil in forced labor slavery in industries where manual labor is needed—such as farming, ranching, logging, mining, fishing, and brick making—and in service industries working as dish washers, janitors, gardeners, and maids.
  • Sex Slavery. About 12.5 percent (4 million) are trapped in forced prostitution sex slavery.
  • Forced Marriage Slavery. About 37.5 percent (15 million) are trapped in forced marriages.
  • Child Slavery. About 25 percent of today’s slaves are children.

Slavery today is a hidden crime, making it harder for the public to see and for those in slavery to call out for help.

Slavery statistics come from the U.N. International Labor Organization, Walk Free and the International Organization for Migration. See our Trafficking and Slavery Fact Sheet for details. 

The Rise of Modern Slavery

Slavery has existed for thousands of years, but economic and social forces have enabled its alarming resurgence in the past few decades by increasing people’s vulnerability.

  • Population: A population explosion has tripled the number of people in the world, mostly in developing countries. In many places, the population has grown faster than the economy, leaving many people economically vulnerable. A fire, flood, drought, or medical emergency places them in the hands of ruthless moneylenders who enslave them.
  • Migration: Millions are on the move from impoverished rural areas to cities, and from poorer countries to wealthier ones, in search of work. Traffickers are able to trick them by posing as legitimate labor recruiters. Migrants are especially vulnerable—they are often very far from home, don’t speak the local language, have no funds to return home, and have no friends or family to rely on.
  • Corruption: Global government corruption often allows slavery to go unpunished. Many law enforcement officials aren’t even aware that bonded labor, where someone is enslaved to work off a loan, is illegal. In many places, those in slavery have no police protection from predatory traffickers.
  • Discrimination: Social inequality creates widespread economic and social vulnerability based on factors such as gender, race, tribe, or caste.

You are Connected to Slavery, and You Can Cure It

Slavery flows into our homes, offices, and schools through many of the products we buy. Slaves harvest cocoa in West Africa, and it ends up in our chocolate. Slaves make charcoal in Brazil, which is used to run smelters that make steel for our cars. Many food products and raw materials are tainted by slavery—such as tomatoes, tuna, shrimp, cotton, diamonds, iron, sugar, and gold.

We all have a role to play in bringing slavery to an end. Although there are more people in slavery today than ever before, slavery represents the smallest percentage of the world’s population than at any other time in history.

There was a time when slavery was legal, and people considered it morally acceptable and economically essential. The battle to build a global consensus that slavery is unjust and unneeded has been won. Now we need to finish the job by freeing those still trapped in bondage.

See our Take Action section for ideas to mobilize your family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and faith community.

Download our Free the Slaves Info Kit to see how we fight slavery around the world.

Read our Frequently Asked Questions page for in-depth Q&A on modern slavery.

See our Slavery in History page for a timeline dating back to 6800 B.C.