Latest Modern Slavery Index Released: Turkey and EU See Increased Risk

No company wants its global supply chains to have any exposure to slavery. Yet new research shows that the risk is on the uptick worldwide, including in 20 European Union countries.

Global risk research firm Verisk Maplecroft released its Modern Slavery Index 2017 on Thursday. The index assessed 198 countries for risk of modern slavery, which the researchers define as including slavery, human trafficking and forced labor. The percentage of countries at “high” or “extreme” risk for modern slavery has grown to 60%, a 2% increase since last year.

Countries in Africa, Asia and MENA [Middle East and North Africa] tended to have the highest risk scores, whereas countries in the Americas represented a much wider range, and countries in Eurasia were at “medium” or “low” risk. Researchers calculate a country’s risk by looking at its laws, enforcement and the severity of violations.

Europe Grows Riskier

While EU countries are on the whole at low risk, the report reveals some disconcerting findings, particularly among countries in the southern and eastern parts of the region.

Romania in particular underwent a significant increase in slavery risk, dropping 56 places on the index and falling into the high risk category. Last year, it had been categorized as medium risk. The country ranks among the top five worst EU countries for modern slavery, with Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria rounding out the rest.

Researchers postulate that the refugee crisis has been the main factor in the rise of slavery and overall deterioration of human rights in parts of Europe. The EU countries that have dropped on the index tend to be entry points for refugees. Italy, for example, has dropped 17 places, and Greece has dropped 16.

Turkey, another common entry point, also saw a significant increase in risk, dropping 52 places on the index. Unsurprisingly, asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. Readers may recall the 2016 BBC investigation that discovered underage Syrian refugees working in Turkish factories subcontracted to global clothing brands like ASOS and Marks & Spencer.

Worst Offenders

The 10 countries with the highest risk of slavery are as follows: North Korea; Syria; South Sudan; Yemen; Democratic Republic of Congo; Sudan; Iran; Libya; Eritrea; and Turkmenistan.

For many companies, the chances that they source from some of the above countries are low to nonexistent. Therefore, it’s arguably more crucial to look at popular sourcing and manufacturing countries that, while higher on the index, nevertheless are at high or extreme risk of slavery.

Take for example major manufacturing hubs in Asia. Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand are all at high or extreme risk. China ranks as the 26th worst offender for slavery violations, which is particularly problematic, given how many supply chains go through the country.

But that is not to say that this year’s Modern Slavery Index only has bad news to offer. Despite the fact that Thailand and India still fall into the high risk category, both have made strides since the last year. India has moved up 34 places in the index, improving more than any other country.

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