Prevalence across the regions

Globally, there were 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world. Looking regionally, the prevalence of modern slavery was highest in Africa with 7.6 victims for every 1,000 people in the region (Figure 1). This was followed by Asia and the Pacific (6.1 victims) and Europe and Central Asia (3.9 victims). The prevalence in the Arab States and Americas was lower, at 3.3 and 1.9 victims per 1,000 people respectively (noting the caveats below regarding data limitations, particularly in the Arab States).

When we separated forced labour and forced marriage, a different regional picture emerged. For forced labour, Asia and the Pacific had the highest prevalence (4.0 victims for every 1,000 people), followed by Europe and Central Asia (3.6) and Africa (2.8). The prevalence of forced labour was lowest in the Arab States (2.2 victims) and the Americas (1.3 victims). The prevalence of forced marriage was highest in Africa (4.8 victims), followed by Asia and the Pacific region (2.0 victims), and the Arab States (1.1 victims). The prevalence was lowest in the Americas (0.7 per 1,000 people) and Europe and Central Asia (0.4 victims).

At the regional level, the impact of conflict and state-imposed forced labour remained consistent with the global findings, with the highest prevalence occurring primarily in countries with well-documented state-imposed forced labour or marked by protracted or recent conflict. The countries with highest prevalence across the regions included
Eritrea, Burundi, and the Central African Republic (Africa); Venezuela, Haiti, and Dominican Republic (Americas); North Korea, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (Asia and the Pacific); Syria, Iraq, and Yemen (Arab States); and Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Macedonia (Europe and Central Asia).

Data limitations – prevalence

While regional estimates of prevalence of modern slavery were presented in the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, critical gaps in available data were noted. These are particularly problematic in the Arab States where only two national surveys were undertaken, neither of which was a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country, despite the incidence of forced labour reported by various sources in such sectors as domestic work and construction in the GCC. Further, measurement of forced marriage among residents of countries within the region is particularly problematic where there are no surveys. Taken together, these gaps point to a significant underestimate of the extent of modern slavery in this region.

Similarly, it is typically not possible to survey in countries that are experiencing profound and current conflict, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, and parts of Nigeria and Pakistan. Yet it is known that conflict is a significant risk factor – the breakdown of the rule of law, the loss of social supports, and the disruption that occurs with conflict all increase risk of both forced labour and forced marriage. The lack of data from countries experiencing conflict means that modern slavery estimates in regions where conflict countries are situated will understate the problem. Drawing on vulnerability data goes some way towards mitigating the impact of this gap; however, the need for better data in conflict countries remains an urgent research priority.

Figure 1Regional prevalence of modern slavery (per 1,000 population) by category

Regional prevalence of modern slavery (per 1,000 population) by category

Vulnerability across the regions

An improved understanding of the drivers of modern slavery – that is, the factors that increase vulnerability to modern slavery – is critical to the development of successful interventions. Our assessment of vulnerability is conducted at the national level and covers five dimensions: governance issues, lack of basic needs, inequality, disenfranchised groups, and effects of conflict (see Appendix 2: Part A).1 

A regional analysis of our vulnerability measures suggests higher risk of modern slavery in the Arab States and the Americas than is evident in the prevalence data. The Arab States had the second highest vulnerability scores across the five regions, despite having relatively low prevalence estimates. The Africa region had the highest average vulnerability score (62 percent), followed by the Arab States (57 percent), Asia and the Pacific (46 percent), and the Americas (41 percent), while the lowest levels of vulnerability are found in Europe and Central Asia (28 percent); (Figure 3). Looking behind the overall vulnerability scores to the dimension level, it is apparent that across the regions, vulnerability related to governance issues, lack of basic needs, and disenfranchised groups were highest in Africa, vulnerability related to inequality was highest in the Americas, and vulnerability related to conflict was highest in the Arab States (Table 1). Figure 3 shows how countries in the region scored in relation to the regional average on each dimension of vulnerability.

Figure 2Overall vulnerability score dot plot with regional averages (higher number indicates higher vulnerability)

Overall vulnerability score dot plot with regional averages (higher number indicates higher vulnerability)

Table 1Regional average vulnerability scores by dimension (higher number indicates higher vulnerability)
Region Governance Issues Lack of basic needs Inequality Disenfranchised Groups Effects of Conflict Overall weighted average
Africa 60.8 38.4 43.1 44.5 35.7 62.0
Americas 44.3 21.4 49.9 33.5 22.9 41.4
Arab States 64.8 24.6 41.2 33.4 40.0 57.2
Asia and the Pacific 49.3 31.1 32.3 34.0 32.4 46.1
Europe and Central Asia 34.6 16.8 30.2 34.5 20.1 28.2
Total 48.6 27.0 38.4 37.3 28.7 45.6

Government responses across the regions

The Europe and Central Asia region had the strongest response to modern slavery, with countries scoring an average BB rating. Within the broader Europe and Central Asia region, European governments in particular are generally characterised by both high levels of political will and resources, and this is backed up by regional bodies that provide monitoring and oversight. The Americas had the second strongest responses to modern slavery, scoring an average B rating, reflecting improvements in both victim identification mechanisms and support services. Both Asia and the Pacific and the Arab States have a CCC rating on government responses. However, the responses themselves within these two regions were different, with some countries in the Asia and the Pacific region starting to provide safety nets and protections for people in high risk sectors or groups. The Africa region, with a CC rating, had the lowest average regional government response score, but this should not diminish important improvements made in recent years, including introduction of criminal laws and national referral mechanisms in several countries including Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone. Despite this, in Africa, limited resources and ongoing conflict continued to hinder more comprehensive responses to modern slavery.

Table 2Government response rating and milestone percentage by region
Average rating Regions Support survivors Criminal justice Coordination Address risk Supply chains
CC Africa 28.2 30.9 32.9 42.5 0.3
B Americas 46.5 48.7 47.2 62.8 4.1
CCC Arab States 43.3 35.3 30.5 40.5 0.0
CCC Asia and the Pacific 37.5 36.9 35.6 48.1 1.0
BB Europe and Central Asia 57.4 57.0 57.4 64.6 10.9

Figure 3Overall government response score dot plot with regional averages (higher number indicates stronger response)

Overall government response score dot plot with regional averages (higher number indicates stronger response)


1As noted in the methodology (Appendix 2), the vulnerability model is based on data collected for a reference period ending on 15 April 2017.