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"Modern slavery" ensnares estimated 400,000 Americans

Millions living in modern slavery worldwide
Millions of people living in modern slavery worldwide 07:17

More than 40 million people around the world are trapped in a state of "modern slavery," such as forced marriage and state-mandated labor -- an estimated 400,000 of that number live in the U.S.

So concludes a recent report report by human rights group Walk Free Foundation, which also found that 1 in 800 Americans today works under conditions that amount to forced labor.

The phrase "modern slavery is based on a United Nations standard and refers to a "situation where someone is unable to leave." That can involve everything from sex work and forced marriage to construction projects where workers are deprived of basic employee rights, Davina Durgana, a senior statistician and co-author of the report, told CBS News.

The organization's Global Slavery Index found that most of those subjected to forced conditions live in Asia. Conditions are harshest in North Korea, where the researchers estimate one in 10 people, or 2.6 million, are victims of modern slavery.

"We call it state-imposed forced labor," said Durgana of political dissidents and others sentenced to hard labor in North Korea and other nations.

A major factor driving modern slavery around the globe: consumerism. The U.S. is the biggest purchaser of foreign goods at risk of being made through forced labor, the group says, while China is the largest source of products made under conditions of duress.

Conversely, the U.S. does better than most countries in tackling the issue, behind only the Netherlands in implementing policies to curb modern slavery.

Consumers concerned about such abuses should consider how the products they buy are sourced, especially when it comes to buying cocoa, fish, apparel and electronics, Durgana advised.

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