What is modern-day slavery?

The U.S. Department of State defines “modern slavery”, “trafficking in persons”, and “human trafficking” as umbrella terms describing the acts of recruiting, transporting, harbouring, obtaining, or providing a person for compelled labour or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, threat, or coercion.

Modern-day slavery can be broadly broken into five subcategories:

  • Debt bondage or bonded labour – the world’s most widespread form of slavery, when people borrow money they cannot repay, are required to work to pay off the debt, and then lose control over the conditions of both their employment and the debt.
  • Human trafficking – involves transporting, recruiting or harbouring people for the purpose of exploitation, using violence, threats, or coercion.
  • Descent-based slavery – where people are born into slavery because their ancestors were captured and enslaved; generations may remain in slavery by descent.
  • Forced labour – any work or service that people are forced to do against their will under the threat of some form of punishment.
  • Child slavery – child slavery is often confused with child labour, but is much worse. Child slavery occurs when a child’s labour is exploited for someone else’s gain. It can include child trafficking, child soldiering, child marriage, and child domestic slavery.

The modern slavery industry spans the world. It targets vulnerable populations affected by war, poverty, and oppression. Slavery is closer than you think; although illegal in all countries, it persists in every corner, including in the most advanced democracies. Some slaves are born into slavery, while others are abducted or trafficked into it under false pretenses. They work under brutal conditions in construction, manufacturing, sex work, domestic work, and agricultural labour.

Number of estimated slaves living among us

Canada: 6,500   U.S.A: 57,700

The Global Slavery Index estimates that over 45 million people currently live in slavery – a number higher than at any point in history. Despite its prevalence, most people are unaware that slavery exists and is on the rise. Further, consumers are unwittingly fueling the slavery industry, as they know little to nothing about the supply chains of most of the products they buy, many of which are tainted with some form of modern-day slavery. Corporations themselves are often unaware of the labour conditions deeper in the supply chains of their products. The modern slavery industry is estimated to generate around $150 billion annually.