Modern slavery is most prevalent in North Korea and other repressive regimes, but developed nations also bear responsibility for it because they import $350 billion worth of goods that are produced under suspicious circumstances, according to research released Thursday.
The Global Slavery Index estimates 40.3 million people worldwide were subjected to modern slavery in 2016, with the highest concentration in North Korea, where one in 10 people lived under such conditions.
"This index makes us visible," North Korean defector Yeon-mi Park, who escaped to China where she was trafficked and forced into marriage, said at a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York.
"Over 40 million people ... they are not numbers. It could be anyone. It was me. It was my mother. It was my sister," she said. "Even now, there are 300,000 North Korean defectors in China, and 90 percent of them are being trafficked. They are being sold by Chinese men for a few hundred dollars."
Park, who is now studying at Colombia University in New York, urged people everywhere to help the millions of victims of modern slavery.
"These people simply were born in the wrong place, and that's why they're being punished for — their birthplace," said Park, who has founded a group help North Korean trafficking victims.
The report was compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, an anti-slavery campaign founded by Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, who said at the New York press conference that "for the first time there is real hope we can end modern slavery."
The goal of the index is to pressure governments and companies to do more to end modern slavery by providing hard data on the numbers of people involved and the impact it has around the world. For example, modern slavery in developing nations puts jobs at risk in the U.S. and Western Europe because domestic goods compete against imports produced through "exploitation of the worst kind," Forrest told The Associated Press.
"By unraveling the trade flows and focusing on products at risk of modern slavery that are imported by the top economies, it becomes clear that even the wealthiest countries have a clear and immediate responsibility for responding to modern slavery both domestically and beyond their borders," the report said. "Developed economies are exposed to the risk of modern slavery not only when this crime is perpetrated within their national borders, but also when that risk is effectively transferred to them via the products they import."
Modern slavery involves the use of threats, violence and deception to take away people's ability to control their own bodies, to refuse certain kinds of work or to stop working altogether.
The report cites coal, cocoa, cotton, timber and fish as among the products that may be tainted by modern slavery.
In North Korea, coal exports are the area of greatest concern.
The index lists Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Iran as the worst offenders after North Korea.
Repressive regimes are of particular concern because their "populations are put to work to prop up the government," according to the report.