UN defends global estimates on slavery

New Delhi, October 7

The United Nations on Friday defended its new global estimates on

slavery after local media reported that India’s intelligence agency advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discredit the research, saying it may tarnish the country’s image and exports.

A report by International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Australian rights group Walk Free Foundation published on September 19 found more than 40 million people across the world were victims of modern day slavery last year.

The report said 62 per cent of those in forced marriages or forced labour such as construction or domestic work were in the Asia-Pacific region. It did not provide country-specific data.

But in a memo from India’s Intelligence Bureau to Modi’s office, the agency questioned the report’s methodology, claiming the data ‘has enough

potential to substantially harm India’s image and exports’, the Indian Express reported on Wednesday.

The bureau warned that ‘global documentation on slavery is increasingly targeting India as home to the highest number of slaves in the world’, and called for a strong campaign to ‘discredit’ the information, the newspaper

report added.

A home ministry official said that he could not confirm or deny inputs from security agencies.

ILO officials rejected claims India was being targeted and said they had full confidence in the report’s findings.

“The memo is based on a misunderstanding. There are no national

figures in the data. We don’t single out any country,” Beate Andrees, ILO’s chief of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We collaborated with Walk Free for a global figure as there was there was a strong demand among practitioners who found it unhelpful to have competing numbers on this.”

According to the Indian Express, the memo cited figures from a 2016 report by the Walk Free Foundation which estimated that 40 per cent — over 18 million — of the world’s estimated 45.8 million slaves were in India.

Michaelle De Cock, the ILO’s senior statistician, said the security agency had confused data from last year’s Walk Free Foundation with this year’s new global estimates.

“There has been some confusion over the data. We do not endorse the data from the Walk Free report last year. Our global estimates are based on a completely new methodology which has to go through all the usual ILO procedures.”

There are no national figures on the number of people in slavery in India, but the labour ministry recently announced plans to identify, rescue and help over 18 million bonded labourers by 2030.