This article originally appeared on ABC News.
More than 45 million people are living as modern slaves around the world, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, with two-thirds reported in the Asia-Pacific region.
Founder of Walk Free Andrew Forrest said the rise of nearly 30 per cent was due to better data collection, although he feared the situation was getting worse with global displacement and migration increasing vulnerability to all forms of slavery.
Mr Forrest, an Australian mining billionaire and philanthropist, urged businesses to check their supply chains for worker exploitation, saying he found thousands of people trapped in slavery making goods for his company Fortescue Metals Group.
“But I’ve had some of some biggest entrepreneurs in the world look me in the eye and say ‘I will not look for slavery in case I find it’,” he said at the launch of the index in London.
Incidences of slavery were found in all 167 countries in the index, with India home to the largest total number with an estimated 18.4 million slaves among its 1.3 billion population.
But Mr Forrest said India deserved credit for starting to address the problem, with the Government this week unveiling a draft of its first comprehensive anti-human trafficking law to treat survivors as victims rather than criminals.
North Korea ranked as worst in terms of concentration with one in every 20 people — or 4.4 per cent of its 25 million population — in slavery and its Government doing the least to end the situation with reports of state-sanctioned forced labour.
“We need to make it clear we’re not going to tolerate slavery and when there is slavery in a regime we should not trade with them,” Mr Forrest said.
Mr Forrest acknowledged the latest data was likely to attract criticism, with some researchers accusing the index of flawed methodology by extrapolating on-the-ground surveys in some countries to estimate numbers for other nations.
The 2016 index was based on interviews with about 45,000 people by pollster Gallup in 56 languages in 25 countries.
But Mr Forrest said a lack of hard data on slavery in the past had held back efforts to tackle the hidden crime, and it was important to draw a “sand in the line” measurement to drive action.
The United Nation’s International Labour Organisation estimates 21 million people globally are victims of forced labour but this does not take into account all forms of slavery.
“Without measurement you don’t have effective management and there’s no way to lead the world away from slavery,” Mr Forrest said.
He said the Global Slavery Index aimed to measure the prevalence of slavery in the 167 most populous countries as well as the level of vulnerability of people to enslavement and strength of government efforts to combat it.
The 2016 index again found Asia, which provides low-skilled labour in global supply chains producing clothing, food and technology, accounted for two-thirds of the people in slavery.
About 58 per cent of people living in slavery are in five countries — India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
However the countries with the highest proportion of their population enslaved were North Korea, Uzbekistan, and Cambodia.
The governments taking the least action to tackle slavery were listed as North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, and Hong Kong.
By contrast the governments taking most action were the Netherlands, the United States, Britain, Sweden and Australia.