More than 45m people around the world are trapped in modern slavery, a third more than previously thought, a report has found.
They are being trafficked and forced to work as prostitutes or domestic servants or enslaved in debt bondage and compelled to toil away in factories and farms, according to the study.
The Global Slavery Index for 2016 found that every corner of the globe is affected by slavery, but Asia is the worst offender.
North Korea had the highest prevalence with 4.37% of its population enslaved, followed by Uzbekistan at 3.97% and Cambodia with 1.65%.
India has the highest number of modern slaves with an estimated 18.35m, followed by China with 3.39m and Pakistan with 2.13m.
The report said the UK “led the world” in its anti-slavery strategy. Its 2015 Modern Slavery Act toughened up laws and increased the sentence for the worst offenders to life imprisonment.
Andrew Forrest, chairman and founder of the Walk Free Foundation, which compiled the report, urged world leaders to follow Britain’s example.
Speaking ahead of the report’s launch in London yesterday, he said: “One of the reasons why we chose to launch the Global Slavery Index 2016 in London was because of the leadership which Britain has made on the modern slavery issue.
“The Modern Slavery Act 2015 led the world and we are seeing this having a real impact in how companies and countries behave. We feel very strongly that if this leadership is adopted by the nine other major economies of the world then the world would be a much safer place.”
The report found that 45.8m men, women, and children are modern slaves — 10m more than the last survey in 2014.
Mr Forrest said the rise was down to better and more data, although he said he also believes the number of those enslaved is increasing.
He said: “It isn’t necessarily that fact that slavery has increased, we can’t prove that, what we can prove is that the metrics of visibility, the hard data, is better.
“Although my gut feeling is that it is actually increasing still and it will be a year or two before it turns around. But it is going to turn around, the way the world is waking up to it.”
The British Home Office estimates that around 13,000 are in modern slavery in Britain. Of these people, the largest proportion is from Albania, followed by Nigeria and Vietnam, but many are British nationals, often teenage girls groomed and then forced into sex work.
While the report praises Britain, it warned that conviction rates remain low and immigration rules tying migrant domestic workers to their employers make them vulnerable to exploitation.