A report released in September by the International Labor Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations (UN), states that, currently, there are 28 millions of people in slave labor in the world and others 22 millions in forced marriage, which totals 68 millions of people in modern slavery. The previous report, published five years earlier, showed 40 millions of modern slaves across the planet. Although the UN speaks of “10 millions more people” under these conditions in half a decade, scholars analyze that this is not a vertiginous growth of slavery, but an improvement in diagnostic methods, whose limitations still prevent revealing the real dimension of the problem.
Professor of Political Science at the University from Richmond, in the United States, Monti Datta has been dedicated to projects on human trafficking and modern slavery, some of them in partnership with the University of Nottingham Rights Laboratory, in the United Kingdom, and said he was intrigued by the figures released by the UN. “What explains the global estimate to have increased 10 millions in five years? Does this mean that we will see an annual increase of 2 million slaves each year?”, he asks.
Datta explains that the gaps in studies on the subject begin in the absence of sampling data in dozens of countries. The report released by the UN, for example, gathered information from 75 nations to estimate non-consensual marriage and from
for forced labor. Investigations into working conditions took place through 109. 914 interviews , carried out between 2017 and 2021, in which individuals were asked about their own experiences of forced labor and their immediate family network. In the same period, 109.109 people were heard about consent in marriage.
“The estimates for countries where no national surveys were carried out were obtained using an imputation model ”, explains the report. “As there were no national surveys available for the North American region, this region was assimilated to the North, South and Western Europe region”, exemplifies the document.
“There are still dozens of countries around the world for which we do not yet have solid data. My concern is that once we have more reliable and accurate numbers for those countries that haven’t been studied, we may see an increase in numbers. But until we have more data, we simply cannot know”, analyzes Datta, in an interview with Gazeta do Povo.
“ Consider the analogy of a bathroom scale. When weighing yourself, you can buy a cheap scale at first just to get a rough idea of how much you weigh. But then, becoming more concerned about your health, you buy a much better scale, which gives you a much more accurate measurement. This doesn’t mean that your weight has changed radically, just that you now have a much better idea of it”, he explains.
Datta recalls that the first Global Slavery Index, published in 2013 by the international human rights organization Walk Free, reported 40 .8 million enslaved and was based on expert input, not sample surveys. Samples from 25 countries were collected three years later, when Walk Free commissioned Gallup polls on the topic.
“However, Walk Free ended up generating a global estimate for 168 nations, not just for the 25 nations surveyed. This means that for the other countries in its estimate of 914, Walk Free relied on expert input and statistical techniques – and did not just use nationally representative survey data.” , details. The same mixture of sampling with statistical techniques occurred in the two UN estimates on slavery, in 2017 and 2021.
With research methods becoming more and more precise, it becomes impossible to make comparisons between a recent survey and a previous one – as the data were obtained in different ways and therefore there is no common basis of Comparation. Another difficulty is the lack of disclosure of which countries were surveyed in each study.
“It is difficult, therefore, to know how many of these 914 countries sampled for the 2017 report were repeated for the 2022 report. We also do not have publicly available data for these 48 countries, let alone the countries surveyed for the global estimate of 2022. And without access to any of the statistical calculations made by the UN for any of the estimates, the scholars cannot independently replicate the UN findings for any of its 2017 or reports. ”, laments Datta. “This lack of transparency makes it difficult to claim that there has actually been a 10 increase in the number of people enslaved from 2017 to 2017”, completes.
Despite the inaccuracies, the professor argues that, by bringing the topic up for debate, the new estimate of 40 million ended up generating more awareness about the situation of slavery contemporary. “This is a good thing. But to truly eradicate slavery, we need to know the data. We need to know exactly who is enslaved and where”, he says.
For the scholar, while there is still no more exact panorama of the problem, a good way out for studies on slavery is precisely the honesty about the limitation of findings. “The UN has done a good job, but because there are so many countries for which we still don’t have solid data, it’s important to have a sense of humility and recognize that there’s still a lot about contemporary slavery that we don’t know for sure. This is important as we move forward”, argues Monti Datta.
Modern slavery is exploitation another person, through force, fraud or coercion, usually for economic gain. Forms of modern slavery can include forced labor in companies, commercial sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and the use of child soldiers in armed conflict (the subject of one of Professor Monti Datta’s most recent studies). The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, published in September 12, were developed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the international human rights group Walk Free.