North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, with 1 out of every 10 citizens victims under the practice, according to estimates in a new report.
More than 2.6 million people live under modern slavery in the country, the 2018 Global Slavery Index found, with the vast majority forced to work by the state. The report also argued that the North Korean government had the weakest response to slavery out of all the countries surveyed, as the North Korean state itself is involved in forced labor inside and outside the country.
The report defines modern slavery as slavery itself, as well as human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage and the sale and exploitation of children.
The findings come amid ongoing negotiations between North Korea and the United States, as well as inter-Korean talks. These talks have focused on denuclearization and military issues rather than human rights issues.
“There’s a strong focus on bombs and missiles, but the North Korean tragedy is much more about lost freedom through the brutal suppression of human potential,” said Andrew Forrest, founder of the Walk Free Foundation.
Walk Free has published the Global Slavery Index since 2013. The index aims to estimate the number of modern slaves in a country rather than just count reported cases.
In the past, some experts have criticized the methodology of Walk Free’s estimates, though the organization has revised its process a number of times in response to criticism.
For this year’s index, Walk Free teamed up with Leiden Asia Centre and the Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in a bid to reach accurate estimates for North Korea.
Researchers conducted interviews with 50 North Korean defectors, all but one of whom said they had been subjected to conditions that met the international legal definition of “forced labor,” according to the index.
“While the information vacuum poses challenges, we are confident that the data reflects the most accurate estimation on the pervasiveness of modern-day slavery inside North Korea,” said Fiona David, Walk Free’s executive director of global research, noting that the research also involved looking at a variety of data from international organizations and nonprofits.