There’s more than 40 million people trapped in slavery around the world.
That’s more than the entire population of California — the biggest state in the US — all stuck in a cruel cycle of forced labour, sex work, or marriage without consent.
And according to a new report, it appears that modern slavery is only getting worse.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) just released a damning report that emphasised that the number of victims are increasing in Europe: an increase from 4,248 to 4,429 between 2011 and 2016.
But at the same time, convictions are growing increasingly rare: in 2016 there were just 742 people convicted for human trafficking crimes in Europe, a fall from 988 convictions in 2011.
UNODC collected information about 225,000 victims of trafficking detected🌍betw 2003-2016.— UN Office on Drugs and Crime (@UNODC) January 7, 2019
Today the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018 will be launched @UN_Vienna w/@YuryFedotov & @Karin_Kneissl@MFA_Austria
Full report: https://t.co/7u4z3kZvrF#EndHumanTraffickingpic.twitter.com/sxaZP3VwuR
And experts told the Guardian that lower conviction rates in Europe could be down to tougher border laws and the difficulty in building cases under new slavery legislation.
“People who might have been detected as victims of a crime in the past in a lot of western European countries, are now being treated as not victims of a crime but as illegal migrants and are being deported or dumped that way,” said Kevin Bales from the University of Nottingham.
“The convictions either are hard to make, and we know that to be true, under some of the newer slavery and trafficking laws, or they are choosing to prosecute under a statute with which they are more likely to get a successful prosecution,” Bales added.
For example, in England, there has only been one conviction for forced marriage since the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. Yet there were 1,196 possible cases reported to the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) in 2017. The youngest potential victim was just two years-old.
However, the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons clarifies that although convictions are falling in Europe, rates are actually increasing elsewhere in the world.
Globally, countries are reporting more victims — an increase of 40% to 24,000 between 2011 and 2016 — and increasingly imprisoning more traffickers over the same period.
But the report insists there are still “vast areas of impunity”, with conviction numbers often still extremely low — and in areas of conflict there’s a danger that trafficking can be used as a weapon.
“Armed groups use [trafficking] for their strategy,” said Kristiina Kangaspunta, UNODC’s chief of the Crime Research Section “They are exploiting, abusing people to show they have control over the community, or to increase their force, either recruiting child soldiers or giving sex slaves as a reward for their recruitment.”
“It is very important to recognise that we always talk about trafficking as if it is one type of crime, but it is not,” she added.