04/11/2013 10:49 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Human Trafficking: the First Gender-Equal Industry

If you hadn't noticed, Europe and its nations are still desperately trying to scramble out of a crippling financial crisis. Nevertheless, some industries are flourishing. Unfortunately, it is often the ones that we would rather see fail.

The human trafficking industry - already the most profitable international criminal enterprise after the drugs and arms trades - is posting higher profits than ever. In 2005, UN estimated that it was a $32 billion per year industry, based on International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people suffered from forced slavery.

Last month, a Walk Free Foundation report suggested that the problem is worsening. Slavery is a hidden crime, meaning accurate figures will always be difficult to attain, but the charity created the Global Slavery Index and ranked 162 countries on variables including debt bondage, forced marriage and trafficking. It showed that 30 million people around the globe now live in slavery.

Haiti, Nepal, Moldova and Benin all have high rates when considered in relation to population size but Mauritania leads the way with about 4% of its population enslaved. China (2.9 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million) have inordinately high rates in terms of true numbers of people living in slavery, while Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, DRC and Burma round out the top-10.

India sits alone atop the ranking system with an incredible 14 million people living in conditions of slavery. It is home to almost half of the world's total slave population, with exploitation of its own citizens taking place within its own borders. Indian victims are controlled by violence. They are economically exploited. They are manipulated and forced into jobs. They live on little or no pay and rarely have any semblance of freedom.

The situation for female slaves is dire. They are trafficked, coerced and even tricked into servitude, prostitution and forced marriage. Children are also at risk. Struggling parents often sell their children, who are then forced into the sex-trade. Many more are kidnapped and brought to Delhi to work in begging rackets, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Delhi is a veritable hotbed of slave-activity, with many criminal gangs operating under the guise of 'placement agencies' or massage parlours. It is also a transit-point for those being trafficked to other nations.

India's record on slavery is abhorrent, but this is not a foreign problem. No country is free of slaves; even our own. According to the Global Slavery Index, around 10,500 people live in slavery-like conditions in Germany. Around 4,000 people are enslaved in the UK and not just women trafficked for sex; the statistics illustrate a fairly equal gender distribution.

Approximately 40% of all the UK's human trafficking victims identified last year were male. Sex was a driving force, but so too was domestic servitude and even organ harvesting. Nearly 87% of all victims of forced labour were male, debunking the myth that slavery is a sex-centric, female-dominated industry. In fact, the 2012 UN Global Report on Trafficking in Persons articulated that men and boys accounted for 25% of all trafficking victims detected worldwide.

As always, big cities attract those engaging in nefarious activities. The Counter Human Trafficking Bureau believes hundreds of people are forced into slavery in London every day. The Metropolitan Police's Human Trafficking Unit noted that children as young as 10 years old have been found in inner-city brothels. Outside of urban centres, incidents of slavery have been reported in the UK's outermost regions. In 2011, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation elucidated that migrants are forced to work in appalling conditions in Northern Ireland.

Studies of the fishing, mushroom and catering industries found a small number of migrants being taken advantage of by both Northern Irish employers and members of their own community. Rather than nationality, age or gender, exploitation was linked to the vulnerability of the worker; the inability to speak English, poor access to social networks and a lack of local knowledge. Without appropriate VISAs, opportunities for escape were limited and many workers simply swapped one exploitative employer for another.

What these cases show is that slavery is close to home, no matter where you live. It happens in our communities and our cities. It is the teenage girl who was manipulated and recruited by seemingly well-meaning men, only to be sold into the commercial sex trade. But it is also the South American woman who is a vastly underpaid domestic servant and it is also the man who came to the UK in search of a better life, only to find himself forcibly working long hours, being intimidated with violence and living in squalid conditions.

The brutalisation of vulnerable people happens in every country. It just might be different to what you expect. It happens every day, everywhere. Just because we don't recognise it, doesn't mean that it doesn't happen.