The actor Russell Crowe, known better for assault & battery charges than social consciousness, just released the third Global Slavery Index on behalf of the Walk Free Foundation owned & operated by Andrew Forrest. Forrest is an Australian billionaire whose fortune is based on mining.
Forrest, especially as a mining magnate, is not the kind of guy who usually cares about human exploitation. The Index appears to be a vanity project for his daughter who was distressed by witnessing orphaned children trafficked to the sex trade in Nepal.
It is important to know the character & scale of slavery throughout the world & there are several indexes that attempt to do the metrics. The Global Slavery Index estimates people born into bondage, trafficked for sex, trapped in debt bondage or forced labor, & those forced into child marriage. The Index estimated all of those at 35.8 million in 2014 & at 45.8 million in 167 countries in 2016. The UN International Labour Organization estimates there are 21 million people in forced labor but does not include child marriage & uses a different methodology.
According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, India has the largest number of slaves (18,354,700 people & 1.400 percent) but North Korea has the largest percentage (4.373 percent & 1,100,000 people). The problem with the Index is its methodology which has been faulted as obviously flawed if not also based too much on speculation. One glaring contradiction is that in 2014 the Index ranked North Korea as #63 with 0.4348 percent & 108,200 enslaved citizens.
How do they determine the number of slaves in North Korea when by all media accounts it is a closed society that does not allow tourists, reporters, or human rights investigators free travel? Last year, a South Korean rights group claimed 100,000 North Koreans were sent abroad to work as “state-sponsored slaves” ‘whose wages were then confiscated & used to buy luxury goods for the regime.’ How do they know that? Isn’t that carrying speculation a little too far!?
This isn’t a defense of the Stalinist regime in North Korea nor a suggestion that they don’t exploit labor but the metrics used for the country in the Global Slavery Index call into question all the rest of its findings & suggest there might be political motivations for the rankings. That would make the Index useless when we do need to understand the scale of slavery in the world under neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism.
(Photo of Crowe at press conference from Reuters)