On October 17 in London the Global Slavery Index (GSI) was published by the Walk Free Foundation, a body which, from the literature I’ve seen, appears unusually close-mouthed about itself. The GSI is the first publication ever of its kind, I gather, and “aims to be a tool that citizens, civil society groups, public authorities, and their partners can use to understand the size of the issue (of modern slavery) and assess progress in the eradication of all (its) forms...”
The GSI defines modern slavery as “the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.”
The element of control, the GSI adds, is “common to all forms of modern slavery.” (I would have thought all forms of slavery, modern or ancient, but let that pass.) More precisely, the GSI says that modern slavery “includes slavery, slavery-like practices (such as debt bondage, forced marriage, and sale or exploitation of children), human trafficking and forced labour.”
Conceding that modern slavery is especially difficult to measure, the GSI nonetheless proceeds to furnish a ranking of 162 countries around the world (with number 1 as the worst and number 162 as the best), identify factors relevant to the risk of slavery, and examine the strength of some government responses to the subject. It uses a number of variables, placed in five categories: anti-slavery policies, human rights, economic and social development, state stability, and women’s rights and discrimination.
It estimates that, globally, there are 29.8 million people in modern slavery, of whom 76 per cent, in terms of absolute numbers, are to be found in ten countries (by order of perceived wickedness): India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Bangladesh. But the prevalence of population in modern slavery, that is, the number of enslaved as a percentage of the country’s population, is highest, according to the GSI, in Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Ivory Coast, The Gambia and Gabon.
Of the 162 countries examined, 38 of the worst 50 (by prevalence) are—surprise, surprise— given as African and eight, including Uzbekistan, as Asian. The remaining four are Haiti, Moldova, Russia and Georgia. By contrast, again to no one’s surprise, 12 of the top 13 are given as European; the 13th is a mainly European-origin country, New Zealand.
The only Caricom countries listed are Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and T&T. Of the total 162, we are at number 133, ahead of Haiti, Suriname, Guyana and Jamaica, but slightly behind Barbados, which is at 135. I was naturally interested in our placement, and the reasons therefor. Unfortunately, the GSI contains only 20 country studies, for the best and worst ten on the prevalence list.
Haiti is at number 2, the Dominican Republic at 79. (This would suggest that the DR’s documented sins against Haitians and Haitian-origin Dominicans, including the imposition of statelessness and Massa-type control, are not thought by the GSI to be in any way as grievous as Haiti’s failings.) The USA is at 134, just ahead of us, and Canada at 144. This will surprise you, however: the best-performing country in our hemisphere is given as Cuba, at 149. Cuba! The troglodytes of Miami and Washington DC are going to have a fit.
There are on the list columns for the calculated number of enslaved and for their estimated lower and upper ranges. T&T is said to have 486 persons enslaved and up to 510 estimated enslaved. How were these figures arrived at? This raises the issue of the GSI’s methodology.
The GSI is at pains to say over and over that what it is attempting to do is very much a “best estimation” and “a work in progress”. The Index represents a weighted combined measure of three factors, all estimated: the prevalence of modern slavery in each country; the level of human trafficking to and from each country; and the level of child and early marriage in each country. To estimate prevalence, which represents 95 per cent of the GSI’s total measure, it used two types of information. The first was secondary sources, i.e., a review of published reports. The second was what it calls “representative random sample surveys”.
Then it goes on: “As only a limited number of (such) surveys have been conducted, it was necessary to try to group the 162 countries so that the ratio of prevalence that is most prevalent could be applied. To do this, a country-by-country assessment was made based on commonalities between the survey countries and the remaining countries on such factors as GDP, levels of in and out migration, (and) levels of conflict and stability.”
It strikes me that nearly all of this is extremely iffy, and cannot reasonably be described as a “best estimation” of what is in fact happening. I agree that slavery still exists in our world and that every effort should be made to identify and, if possible, eradicate it. I applaud the Walk Free Foundation’s initiative, while noting the GSI’s many caveats.
But how has it managed to reach so precise a figure as 486 enslaved persons in T&T? I bear in mind that its definition of modern slavery includes human trafficking and exploitation of children. I bear in mind also that there appears to be a thriving trade in Latin American prostitutes (to which successive governments here seem to have turned an eye afflicted by opacity) and that several young T&T women have simply vanished over the years. I ask again, though: from where did the figure of 486 come? And the estimated 510?
First things first, however. Do you agree that T&T has slaves, as defined by the GSI or on any other definition? If so, when do we—the descendants, nearly all of us, of slaves and indentured labourers—begin to pull up our socks and pantyhose and deal frontally with a situation that is surely untenable?
• Reginald Dumas is a former
head of the public service