Measuring global modern slavery through nationally representative household surveys

Elise Gordon, Jacqueline Larsen


Measuring modern slavery is essential for developing effective public policies and allocating resources to address the crime. As a rare occurrence that encompasses the crimes of forced labour, human trafficking, and forced marriage, among others characterised by removal of a person’s freedom, this undertaking presents significant challenges to accurate measurement. While representative surveys are well established in the health and crime fields, its use to measure prevalence of modern slavery is still in its infancy. Despite this, representative household surveys remain the best available method to produce adequate estimates of modern slavery. Representative household surveys underpin the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery produced by Walk Free and the International Labour Organization, as well as three editions of Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index. Since 2014, a total of 54 surveys have been conducted through the Gallup World Poll, with equivalent surveys undertaken in 15 of India’s states. Through face-to-face surveys, modern slavery is operationalised by asking a series of questions on experiences of forced labour and forced marriage. The survey tool is designed to screen and validate answers to survey questions on forced labour and forced marriage through a series of follow-up questions and verbatims. Several rounds of surveys indicate that the approach is promising and has indeed brought us closer to measuring what had previously been considered unmeasurable. The presentation will focus on the development of national random sample surveys and the experiences gained from these surveys.


Elise Gordon is a research analyst at the Walk Free Foundation. Elise is one of the authors of the 2018 Global Slavery Index, a global study of prevalence, vulnerability, and government responses to modern slavery published by the Walk Free Foundation. Her work involves both quantitative and qualitative research on modern slavery. She has qualifications in health sciences from Curtin University, Western Australia and experience with prior experience in epidemiology.



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