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World in the Grip of ‘Hidden Crimes’ : Over 40 Million People, Including Women and Children Trapped in Modern Slavery, Reveals New Report

In the past five years, 89 million people suffered in some form of modern slavery, lasting from days to years, the report estimates

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A government raid empties a shrimp shed in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. Slavery has often been considered an acceptable business practice in the country's seafood export capital. (VOA)

New York, September 20, 2017 : More than 40 million people were trapped as slaves last year in forced labor and forced marriages, most of them women and girls, according to the first joint effort by key anti-slavery groups to count the victims of the often hidden crime worldwide.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), the human rights group Walk Free Foundation and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016 — but added that this was a conservative estimate.

They estimated 24.9 million people were trapped working in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats, and as domestic or sex workers, while 15.4 million people were in marriages to which they had not consented.

Almost three out of every four slaves were women and girls and one in four was a child, with modern slavery most prevalent in Africa followed by Asia and the Pacific region, said the report released Tuesday.

“It’s a conservative number,” Andrew Forrest, founder of Walk Free, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It cannot capture the full extent of the horror of modern slavery.”

No region exempt

In the past five years, 89 million people suffered in some form of modern slavery, lasting from days to years, the report estimated.

“Forced laborers produced some of the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and they have cleaned the buildings in which many of us live or work,” the groups said in the report, stressing the crime was prevalent in all nations.

The findings mark the first time the groups collaborated on an international estimate and prompted calls for stronger labor rights, improved governance of migrants, action to address root causes of debt bondage, and better victim identification.

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“Having a global number shows the prevalence of the issue of modern slavery. It shows there is impunity around the world where people are being traded by organized criminals” and “being let down by systems,” said Kevin Hyland, Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner. “We need to see this translated into action that develops a response about how we safeguard people.”

Previously the anti-slavery groups had used different data, definitions and methodologies to reach separate global estimates, said Kevin Bales, professor of contemporary slavery at Britain’s University of Nottingham and a member of Walk Free’s statistical team.

The latest estimate “is more accurate than any number that we’ve had previously,” he said. “We just have better data and better methods than we’ve ever had before.

“It’s a hidden crime,” he added. “It’s tricky to get at.”

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A boy sells colored balloons in Kabul, Afghanistan(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) (VOA)

Child, sexual exploitation

The estimate compared with a 2016 Walk Free finding that 45.8 million people were slaves and an ILO figure of 21 million in forced labor, but both the ILO and Walk Free cautioned the latest number cannot be compared with earlier figures to show progress or failure in anti-slavery efforts.

But having an agreed-upon estimate can help galvanize anti-slavery efforts, said Jean Baderschneider, head of the U.S.-based Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.

“I’m so thrilled that they got this together. It’s a big deal for the field today,” she said.

Fiona David, executive director of global research at Australia-based Walk Free, said unlike previous estimates, the findings explicitly included people forced into marriages.

Many are women taken from their homes, raped and treated like property that could sometimes be bought, sold or passed on as inheritance, she said.

More than a third of the 15 million victims of forced marriage were under 18 when wed, and nearly half of those were younger than 15. Nearly all were female.

“Really the label marriage is actually a little bit misleading. When you look at what’s behind it, it could also be called sexual slavery,” she said.

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Women arrive at the entrance to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for a trial hearing about evidence of forced marriage and rape during the Khmer Rouge regime, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (VOA)

Including forced marriage is a breakthrough that helps draw needed attention to the issue, Bales said.

“In a lot of countries around the world, they don’t even want to discuss the idea of marriage … in the same room as the idea of slavery,” he said.

Child labor

The ILO also released a separate report showing 152 million children were victims of child labor, which amounted to nearly one in every 10 children worldwide, with almost half of those engaged in hazardous work.

More than two-thirds of these children were working on a family farm or in a family business, with 71 percent overall working in agriculture.

The calculation of forced labor included the private economy, forced sexual exploitation and state-imposed labor.

Half of forced laborers were victims of debt bondage, who were made to work to repay a debt or other obligation, and nearly 4 million adults and 1 million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation.

“The vast majority of forced labor today exists in the private economy. This underscores the importance of partnering with the business community … to eradicate forced labor in supply chains,” the report said.

The ILO and Walk Free conducted surveys in 48 countries and interviewed more than 71,000 people, with findings supplemented by data from the IOM. (VOA)

 

 

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Microsoft Rejects California Law Enforcement Agency’s Request To Install Facial Recognition in Officers’ Cars

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution.

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Brad Smith of Microsoft takes part in a panel discussion "Cyber, big data and new technologies. Current Internet Governance Challenges: What's Next?" at the United Nations in Geneva, Nov. 9, 2017. VOA

Microsoft recently rejected a California law enforcement agency’s request to install facial recognition technology in officers’ cars and body cameras because of human rights concerns, company President Brad Smith said Tuesday.

Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white, male pictures.

AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found.

“Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan” against a database of suspects, Smith said without naming the agency. After thinking through the uneven impact, “we said this technology is not your answer.”

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Microsoft said in December it would be open about shortcomings in its facial recognition and asked customers to be transparent about how they intended to use it, while stopping short of ruling out sales to police. Pixabay

Prison contract accepted

Speaking at a Stanford University conference on “human-centered artificial intelligence,” Smith said Microsoft had also declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly there.

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution.

Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as rapid technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance, deploy autonomous weapons and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse.

‘Race to the bottom’

Microsoft said in December it would be open about shortcomings in its facial recognition and asked customers to be transparent about how they intended to use it, while stopping short of ruling out sales to police.

Smith has called for greater regulation of facial recognition and other uses of artificial intelligence, and he warned Tuesday that without that, companies amassing the most data might win the race to develop the best AI in a “race to the bottom.”

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AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found. Pixabay

He shared the stage with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who urged tech companies to refrain from building new tools without weighing their impact.

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“Please embody the human rights approach when you are developing technology,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw declined to name the prospective customers the company turned down. (VOA)