How Many Slaves?

There are approximately 21 million slaves today.

If there remained only one slave on planet earth, it would still be one too many.

Number 21 written in red on wall

photo by Horia Varlan

Unlike the slavery that existed in the U.S. prior to the passing of the 13th Amendment, slavery is a hidden crime. This means that gathering exact information about the number of modern slaves is next to impossible. Extensive research conducted in the early 2000s by Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves yielded an estimate of 27 million slaves; the number is the most frequently quoted by abolitionist organizations and government officials addressing the issue today.
But it is an imprecise number. To illustrate, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton quoted the 27 million estimate at the 2012 presentation of the U.S. Trafficking in Missing Persons Report.[1] However, the report she was introducing contradicted her with an estimate of 21 million, the 2012 International Labour Organization’s (ILO) global slavery estimate.

Chocolate Moses prefers the more conservative ILO number of 21 million both because the data is newer and the ILO methodology is thoroughly explained in this document.

Planet Eart NASA Goddard Photo and Video

photo by NASA/Goddard Photo

According to the ILO, among the enslaved there are:[2]

  • 15.4 million adults
  • 5.5 million children
  • 11.4 million women
  • 9.5 million men
  • 4.2 million in Central and South Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States
  • 4.0 million in Africa
  • 3.4 million in the Middle East
  • 3.3 million in Asia and the Pacific
  • 3.1 million in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 1.5 million in Developed Economies (including the U.S.) and the European Union

The numbers are so massive that it is impossible for us to grasp their magnitude. It is easier to comprehend one slave than it is one million.


[1] Release of Report 6/19/12

[2] ILO 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labor