In the West, and particularly in the United States, slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past.
However, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates the number of slaves in the world today at around 21 million.
Kevin Bales, of Free the Slaves — the U.S. affiliate of the world’s oldest human-rights organization, the U.K.-based Anti-Slavery International puts it at 27 million. Siddharth Kara of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy says more than 29 million.
That range represents a tightening consensus. Bales’s 27 million — which as a statistician he considers a “conservative estimate” — is derived from secondary-source analysis.
In which case, assuming even the rough accuracy of 27 million, there are likely more slaves in the world today than there have been at any other time in human history. For some quick perspective on that point: Over the entire 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade, 13.5 million people were taken out of Africa, meaning there are twice as many enslaved right now as there had been in that whole 350-year span.