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Report: Half a million people enslaved in Bangladesh

  • Published at 10:48 pm July 20th, 2018
child labour modern slavery brick breaking
A child worker breaks bricks in Dhaka Mehedi Hasan

North Korea, Eritrea and Burundi have the highest percentage of their populations enslaved, the study says

As many as 592,000 Bangladeshis are living in a state of slavery, an international survey released on Thursday said.

They are among the 40 million people estimated to be enslaved around the world as of 2016, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index published by the Australia-based human rights group Walk Free Foundation and reported by Reuters.

Walk Free - working in tandem with the International Labour Organization (ILO) - ranked Bangladesh 92nd among 167 nations worldwide and 19th out of 28 countries in Asia and the Pacific.

India was found to be home to the largest total number of slaves, with an estimated eight million among its 1.3 billion population.

That marks a stark improvement on two years ago, however, when the index showed 18.3 million people living in modern slavery in India. The difference is due to changes in methodology, Walk Free said, reflecting ways of counting people enslaved on any given day or over a longer time period.

China, Pakistan, North Korea and Nigeria rounded out the top five nations with the largest number of slaves, accounting for about 60% of victims globally, according to Walk Free.

But North Korea had the highest percentage of its population enslaved, with one in 10 people are in modern slavery and "the clear majority forced to work by the state", the index said.

Eritrea and the Central African nation of Burundi were also found to have a high prevalence of slavery.

"Each of these three countries has state-sponsored forced labour, where their government puts its own people to work for its own benefit," said Fiona David, research chair of Minderoo Foundation, which led the data collection.

Other countries with the highest rates of slavery were the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Pakistan.

"Most of these countries are marked by conflict, with breakdowns in rule of law, displacement and a lack of physical security," the report said.

The researchers also warned that consumers in affluent countries may be purchasing billions of dollars worth of products manufactured with slave labour, including computers, mobile phones and clothing.

Bangladesh however, is not in the list of such source countries.

"Modern slavery is a first-world problem," said Andrew Forrest, a co-founder of Walk Free. "We are the consumers. We can fix it.”

Rohingyas 'at risk of exploitation'

Although the survey rated the Bangladesh government favourably in terms of its response to slavery conditions, giving it a B rating, it warned that the Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh are vulnerable to exploitation.

“Since conclusive evidence began to emerge in August 2017 of fresh campaigns of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the international community has done little to act,” the report said.

“UN agencies warned of the risk of modern slavery in this chaotic and high-risk environment.

“It is clear that if the international community does nothing to address the enormous risks resulting from the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people to temporary camps in Bangladesh, this will be the next population of deeply exploited and abused people.”