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The Worst Countries for Slavery

Question: What are the five worst countries for human trafficking?

Kevin Bales: The five worst countries for human trafficking and slavery... it's an interesting approach because you have to in a sense define "worst." You know, if you want to talk about raw numbers you have to look at India that has the most raw... the largest raw number of slaves of any country in the world.  But or course there's more than a billion people in India so it's about what's the proportion.  And then if you want to think about some concept of severity when you say "worse," you have to look at a country like Burma where the ruling military dictatorship junta is actually involved in enslaving its own citizens.

And so if I had to, like, list them out, you know, I would point to Burma, even though it's a small country with not a lot of people in slavery.  I'd point... I'd think about India simple because of the extremely large numbers of people in slavery there.  Nepal, Pakistan as well have large numbers.  I'd look at a country like Japan where they have superlative law enforcement but they also have, very sadly, a very strong culture preference which is sexist and somewhat racist about women who come from non-Japanese cultures. And a willingness on the part of law enforcement there to ignore the plight of enslaved people, and particularly women who've come to Japan.  So you have Japan with a superb law enforcement system but probably more than 100,000 people in slavery within Japan which is just worse in the sense that they could solve their problem very quickly but they're choosing not to—as opposed to the citizens of the country like Burma who can't do a thing because their country is being run by a junta of thugs.

Japan, India, Pakistan. Probably have to point to Niger, where hereditary forms of slavery are continuing while government winks at it.  And then of course you have to look to those countries where rule of law has completely collapsed, like the Congo, certainly in the eastern part of the Congo.  Armed gangs from Rwanda and other places run that part of the world.  They're in conflict with each other but they're actually enslaving people in very high proportions of the population.  So "worst," you know, I try to always avoid the invidious comparison of saying which kind of slavery is worse than any other because it's all pretty awful but there area certainly places where the governments could do a lot better.  And Japan is one and Congo is one, and really the United States is one as well.

Recorded on September 24, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

Military juntas like Burma and failed states like the Congo are, unsurprisingly, fertile grounds for slavery. But the practice thrives even in developed countries like Japan and the United States.

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