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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Global Slavery, by the Numbers

Here are some chilling statistics: The lifetime profit on a brickmaking slave in Brazil is $8,700, and $2,000 in India. Sexual slavery brings the slave’s owner $18,000 over the slave’s working life in Thailand, and $49,000 in Los Angeles.

These are some of the numbers recently published by a foundation financed by a New York company that analyzes data for business intelligence, which deployed the same techniques to look at the worldwide trade in human trafficking.

While slavery is illegal across the globe, the SumAll Foundation noted, there are 27 million slaves worldwide, more than in 1860, when there were 25 million. Most are held in bonded servitude, particularly after taking loans they could not repay. Slaves cost slightly more now, with a median price of $140, compared with $134 per human then. Debt slaves cost on average $60; trafficked sex slaves cost $1,910.

“The big shocker for us was the implicit value of human life compared with diffeent commodities,” said Dane Atkinson, chief executive of SumAll, the company that financed the foundation with 10 percent of company equity, or $500,000. “Life is cheaper than some bottles of wine.”

On average today, a person is a slave for six years, after which the person usually escapes, repays the debts holding them, or dies. Most of the world’s slaves are in South Asia.

The foundation obtained the data from a number of sources, including United Nations and World Bank reports, but also criminal filings and reports from human rights organizations and third-party accounts.

“Another big shocker for us was how poor the data quality is,” said Mr. Atkinson. “We come from a corporate world, where reliability is within about 2 percent. There are lots of donations to fight slavery, but very little is done to make the cost clear to people.

Fishing appears to be the most common occupation of child slaves â€" practiced this way in Cambodia, Ghana, Uganda, Indonesia, the ! Philippines and Peru. In Madagascar, children are enslaved to gather stones.

Seeking to shock people to gain attention, the SumAll Foundation put its data into a snappy-looking graphic that wouldn’t at a superficial glance be out of place in a mail order catalog.

“Looking for an extra pair of hands to get you through the winter months” the copy reads. “You’ll find a slave that is right for you at an eye-popping price.”

While this may open the group to charges of sensationalism, Mr. Atkinson said it was an effort to make clear that the developed world is also a consumer of slave labor. “There is a lot of first-world spending geared toward slavery,” he said.

As to whether he’d bring up any connection with slavery to his own corporate customers, he said, “we’re not brave enough to do that yet, but it’s something we’d like to surface. We’re talking to more sources so we can elevate some ugly numbers about how many consumer goods in the U.S. in some way touch lavery.”