What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is an umbrella term encompassing human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced child labor, forced marriage, and commercial sexual exploitation. It is a crime of economic opportunity that exists in every country.


Modern Slavery

Modern slavery is enabled by systems of inequality that leave millions across the globe vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. It is driven by a market demand for cheap goods and services and perpetuated by an enabling environment that allows traffickers to act with impunity.

Today, there are 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide.

While there is no profile that fits all victims, they often belong to the most vulnerable populations. Often due to poverty and/or lack of viable livelihood options, victims pursue jobs that are known to be risky or are coerced, deceived, or threatened into exploitative work. To lure victims or keep them in exploitative working conditions, traffickers are known to use tactics like physical and sexual violence, punishment through food or sleep deprivation, withholding of wages, threat of legal action, debt bondage, and withholding of passport or identity documents.

People walking past small traditional indian village house. Colorful buildings of rural area in India

How can we stop it?

We can stop it by transforming the systems that perpetuate it. By reducing the vulnerabilities of workers and communities to exploitation, changing business practices to ethically meet demand, and strengthening legislative and law enforcement capabilities, we can create systems that protect and empower the vulnerable.

Discover more about our systems view and what we’re doing.

Modern Slavery Facts

  • 71% of victims are female
  • One in four victims are children
  • 85% of all cases occur in Asia and the Pacific and Africa

Experts believe that the best available evidence on the prevalence of modern slavery underestimates the scope of the problem. Due to the hidden nature of the crime and victims’ fear of repercussions from traffickers, it is chronically underreported.

The impacts of modern slavery…

On business


Modern slavery is bad for business. It poses enormous reputational and legal risks. It is associated with poor productivity, high worker turnover, and lower product quality. It also conceals the true cost of products, as labor costs are often inaccurately reported when made with modern slavery. 

On governments


Of the 193 UN recognized states, only 117 are signatories to the Palermo Protocol, the treaty that defines and criminalizes trafficking. Even fewer have signed domestic legislation criminalizing slavery. Initiatives to address forced labor and human trafficking can be good for governments, not only in protecting their citizens, but also when aligned with market needs, can help them solve domestic economic challenges. Recently, governments have begun to take substantive action on forced labor, including but not limited to national legislation, like the UK Modern Slavery Act, and international action like the 2014 Protocol of the Forced Labor Convention.

On you


It is a hidden crime. You may be completely unaware of signs of trafficking or that the everyday products you use are created using forced labor. However, it is almost guaranteed that modern slavery exists in the products you buy. You can learn more about how to spot the signs of trafficking in your community and let companies and brands know that you care about supply chain transparency.

Our Work

Learn more about GFEMS,  how we’re working with the global community to end modern slavery, and how you can get involved in the fight. Explore: