Contemporary slavery, also known as modern slavery, refers to the institutions of slavery that continue to exist in the present day. Estimates of the number of slaves today range from around 21 million to 29 million.
Modern slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry with estimates of up to $35 billion generated annually.
The United Nations estimates that roughly 27 to 30 million individuals are currently caught in the slave trade industry. The Global Slavery Index 2013 states that 10 nations account for 76 percent of the world’s enslaved. India has the most slaves of any country, at 14 million (over 1% of the population).
China has the second-largest number with 2.9 million slaves, followed by Pakistan with 2.1 million, Nigeria with 701,000, Ethiopia with 651,000, Russia with 516,000, Thailand with 473,000, Congo with 462,000, Myanmar with 384,000, and Bangladesh with 343,000.
Mauritania was the last nation to officially abolish slavery, doing so in 2007; yet 4.3% of the population still remains enslaved.
Despite being illegal in every nation, slavery is still prevalent in many forms today.
Slavery also exists on a smaller scale in advanced democratic nations, for example the UKwhere Home Office estimates suggest 10,000 to 13,000 victims. This includes, forced workof various kinds, such as forced prostitution.
The UK has recently made an attempt to combat modern slavery via the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Large commercial organisations are now required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement in regard to their supply chains for each financial year
Slaves can be an attractive investment because the slave-owner only needs to pay for sustenance and enforcement. This is sometimes lower than the wage-cost of free labourers, as free workers earn more than sustenance; in these cases slaves have positive price. When the cost of sustenance and enforcement exceeds the wage rate, slave-owning would no longer be profitable, and owners would simply release their slaves. Slaves are thus a more attractive investment in high-wage environments, and environments where enforcement is cheap, and less attractive in environments where the wage-rate is low and enforcement is expensive.
Free workers also earn compensating differentials, whereby they are paid more for doing unpleasant work. Neither sustenance nor enforcement costs rise with the unpleasantness of the work, however, so slaves’ costs do not rise by the same amount. As such, slaves are more attractive for unpleasant work, and less for pleasant work. Because the unpleasantness of the work is not internalised, being borne by the slave rather than the owner, it is a negative externalityand leads to over-use of slaves in these situations.
Modern slavery can be quite profitable and corrupt governments will tacitly allow it, despite it being outlawed by international treaties such as Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery and local laws. Total annual revenues of traffickers were estimated in 2004 to range from US $5 billion to US $9 billion, though profits are substantially lower. American slaves in 1809 were sold for around $40,000 (in today’s money). Today, a slave can be bought for $90.