“One of the misconceptions that we work against at Walk Free is that slavery is only a problem that happens in the third world, and actually we find the experience of extreme exploitation – which is what modern slavery is – it actually presents itself quite equally across the world, because it is a human being being treated as a commodity,” said Grace Forrest, co-founder of Walk Free.
“And if you’re a female living in slavery no matter what form it is – exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage, human trafficking, debt bondage, domestic servitude – you’re also disproportionately at risk of experiencing sexual exploitation on top of that,” she told The Telegraph.
The organisation aims to highlight the issue by focusing on the “abhorrent” working conditions of women and girls toiling in factories manufacturing products such as clothes and electronics.
It will particularly target western consumers, who may not always be aware of where and under what conditions the products they buy are made.
Using the example of “fast fashion” Ms Forrest said that unless a company makes it explicitly clear what they are doing to protect workers in their supply chain and where their clothes are made, consumers should “directly assume that they are using modern slavery and exploitative work”.
“We cannot assume anyone is doing the right thing because sadly it is the exception, not the rule right now.
“So we hope that businesses feel threatened by the campaigns that we run. They are directly contributing to and profiting from mass female exploitation,” she said.
Another widespread method of exploitation highlighted in the report is the kafala system, which is particularly prevalent in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific region and across Africa.
Under the system, migrant workers are attached to a sponsor, meaning that they cannot enter or leave their host country or change jobs without that sponsor’s consent – something that campaigners say encourages abuse.
“Under the system a migrant worker is not treated as a human, but as a commodity. They are entirely controlled by their sponsor,” said Ms Forrest.
“It is honestly something like a Handmaid’s Tale-style reality, and this system is still in place in countries like Lebanon, Jordan and other countries in the Gulf like Iran, Kuwait and Qatar.”
The Covid-19 crisis is also exacerbating the drivers behind modern slavery, campaigners warn, as the economic crisis pushes more women and girls into vulnerability and exploitation.