New Global Slavery Index

Economist Slavery Index

“Nearly 30M people live as slaves around the world…. Almost half of these are in India.”[1]

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. [2]

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.”[3]

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.

In Which Andrew Writes Honestly About Support Raising

This week I head to Virginia for a fund raising trip. As usual, this is both exciting and daunting. I get incredibly excited and love having the chance to talk to people about India and Kolkata, about human trafficking and the efforts to counter it, about what God says about justice and love put into action, about the church and the individual Christian’s place in facing the evil in the world with a hope rooted in joy, and sharing the freedom and joy and hope with those who are in both physical and spiritual chains. When I talk to people who engage in the story, who are genuinely interested (whether or not they end up as supporters), and who ask questions, give opinions, and tell their own stories – it becomes fun and meaningful.

But, on these support trips, there are always some awkward, discouraging conversations that happen too – well meaning individuals who ask about India, listen politely, but through the entire conversation wear a plastered-on expression that says: “Please don’t ask me for my money.” It’s disheartening to actively watch someone lose interest in a cause that I’m so passionate about – missing the point because they’re hearing a sales pitch rather than a story.

Can something that’s so real to me really just blend into the noise for others? I’ve walked the streets and felt the darkness, heard the stories of prostitutes and freedom fighters and developed a passion for telling those stories to the world – and I want people to hear and engage and care. But I wonder whether this blurs into the bombard of other appeals. When I describe the crumbling beauty of Kolkata and the realities of a life lost to the alleyway pimps and the cutthroat traffickers, how often are those histories and those lives filed away in the same category as canned soup drives and Girl Scout cookie sales and NPR pledge week?

Of course, the reality is, I do need to talk about money. Without financial support, I can’t get to Kolkata in the first place. But I wonder whether, stripped of the request-for-support aspect of these conversations, they would more often become actual conversations and stories to be heard and discussed, if the tears and the rage and the questions would come more readily.

This week, one supporter invited me over to a home brew session. I love that. Just hanging out, making beer, and talking about the world and its beauties and evils and joys. Doing life.

The intersection of real stories with real life is where genuine engagement with the world’s need happens.