“Nearly 30M people live as slaves around the world…. Almost half of these are in India.”
So says this week’s “International” section of the Economist, which rolled out 243 words heralding the advent of the first Global Slavery Index. The index, conducted by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, reported that ¾ of the world’s slaves are concentrated in 10 countries, part and parcel of a global market generating $32billion dollars per year. India, with 14M slaves, came out with the highest numbers, while Mauritania accounted for the worst overall situation, with 4% of their total population in some form of enslavement. 
This count of 30M is, obviously, higher than the 27M slaves worldwide typically cited by justice groups. The short answer to this discrepancy is that running indices and numbers for such statistics is made difficult by the inherently underground and unsavory nature of the trade in human lives, and further muddied by varying definitions of, essentially, what counts as slavery.
This index, for example, includes forced labor, sex trafficking, debt bondage, and (not always counted) children forced into marriage and mentally ill individuals being tricked or coerced into construction labor in Europe. Naturally, differing definitions of slavery, especially where culture collides with internationally accepted human rights, cause some to cry foul. One commenter on the Economist article’s webpage, for example, wrote: “This is crap…. not only the study results, but the definition of slavery.”
Culture and perception, it seems, are not as neutral as we sometimes like to think. For issues like human rights and definitions of slavery, there comes a time and a place where lines in the sand need to drawn that transcend the-way-things-have-always-been-done-here mentalities.
The long and short of it is that this number is staggering and, while the problem is global, clear hotspots of injustice emerge. Individuals, consumers, lawmakers, and NGOs need to step up to the plate and not ignore this one, lest the numbers rise.
More than that, while seeing that kind of data is important to realize the scope of the situation at hand (and is simply the sort of work that a newpaper like the Economist deals with), we need to remember the individual lives that lie behind that data. Numbers and indices tell us the heft and gravity of the tragedy and injustice, but the numbers and indices are not the stories or the lives or the injustices themselves. We would do well to see the lives behind the numbers.
Check out Walk Free’s interactive Global Slavery Index map HERE.
 “The Scourge of Enslavement” in the Economist. (17 Oct 2013) http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/10/daily-chart-13.
 “Dry Bones” in the Economist. (19 Oct 2013) http://www.economist.com/news/international/21588105-hateful-practice-deep-roots-still-flourishing-dry-bones