GLOBAL: Consumers in wealthy G20 countries are unwittingly buying goods and food worth billions of dollars that are produced by people trapped in modern slavery and forced labour.

That is according to the Walk Free Foundation, an Australia-based organisation dedicated to the ending of exploitation, which last week published its Global Slavery Index 2018.

The index, which seeks to measure the scope and scale of modern slavery around the world, revealed the disturbing finding that G20 countries are importing $354bn of at-risk goods each year, fuelling demand for slave labour.

Out of this global total, the US accounts for $144bn a year and the report said that US consumer demand was “key” to fuelling this supply, with electronic goods, garments, fish, cocoa and timber the highest value categories of imported items.

In fact, the US accounts for a full 40% of the global total, with Japan ($47bn), Germany ($30bn), the UK ($18bn) and France ($16bn) rounding out the top five markets in the world.

China is by far the largest source of at-risk goods, with the US importing $122bn of electronics and clothing from the country, while Vietnam and India are rated the second and third largest sources respectively.

At least as alarming, the report also stated that 403,000 people are currently working under forced labour conditions in the US, or one in every 800 people in the country.

Meanwhile, the report estimated that 136,000 people in the UK are working as modern slaves, or more than ten times higher than the official government figure of 13,000.

Perhaps not surprisingly, North Korea is considered to have the highest number of people living in slavery, followed by Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan.

The report also revealed that just seven G20 countries – Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US – have introduced laws and policies designed to minimise the impact of modern slavery on supply chains.

And it singled out the UK’s Modern Slavery Act as a “flagship policy which is beginning to hold the country’s private sector accountable for forced labour in its operations”.

Apart from the UK, other countries judged to be active in dealing with the problem include the Netherlands, the US, Sweden, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Norway, Portugal and Montenegro.

“This report demonstrates, straight from the mouths of some of the 40.3 million victims of modern slavery, that these deplorable crimes continue to happen out of sight, and at a tragic scale,” said Andrew Forrest, founder of the Walk Free Foundation.

“We cannot sit back while millions of women, girls, men and boys around the world are having their lives destroyed and their potential extinguished by criminals seeking a quick profit.”

Sourced from Walk Free Foundation; additional content by WARC staff