According to the Global Slavery Index 2016 there are 736,000 people trapped in slavery in Indonesia, or 0.29 percent of the Indonesian population. As such, Indonesia ranks 10th in terms of countries with the largest absolute number of modern slaves. Compared to the previous index (released in 2014) Indonesia's ranking improved in terms of relative slavery (currently 0.29 percent of the population). However, in absolute terms the number grew by 22,000 from two years ago.

An example of modern slaves in Indonesia are those victims of human trafficking who are forced to work as fishermen under harsh conditions on and around the more remote islands. In April 2015 a report surfaced showing that a fishing company called Pusaka Benjina Resources, based on Benjina Island in East Indonesia, was suspected of using forced labor as well as physically abusing hundreds of its foreign workers (mostly under-aged workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia). Allegedly, these workers were forced to work without pay (sometimes up to 22 hours per day), were whipped, even held in cages and forbidden to return home or inform anyone about their maltreatment. When this case became known the Indonesian government swiftly stepped in, rescuing the foreign workers - around 2,000 people - and repatriated them.

Another positive signal provided by the Indonesian government was that it decided to block the flow of domestic workers to Middle Eastern countries (as there often occur cases of mistreatment of the Indonesian domestic worker, usually women). However, it is suspected that domestic workers still migrate to the Middle East via informal channels.

Still, there are many domestic workers - employed in Indonesia - who are regarded victims of modern slavery. Usually, these workers, primarily young women, live in the house of their employer and are prone to abuse (ranging from physical or sexual abuse to long working hours). Forced labor in the agriculture (for example in the palm oil and tobacco sectors) and construction sectors are also among the most prevalent forms of modern slavery in Indonesia. Meanwhile, sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes also occurs throughout the archipelago.

Although the Indonesian government has shown its commitment to combat modern forms of slavery, there is no time for complacency. Local regulations should be improved by passing the domestic workers’ protection bill as well as by ratifying the International Labor Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention to ensure compliance with international standards. The Indonesian government should also raise efforts to increase awareness of the issue of modern slavery within Indonesian society in order to prevent future cases of slavery. Public awareness is important because consumers and businesses play a role as well (for example, consumers can decide not to purchase goods that are associated with forced labor).

Top Ten Global Slavery Index 2016:

Country Est. Number of
Modern Slaves
Est. % of Population
  in Modern Slavery
Population Size
 1. India    18,354,700               1.40  1,311,051,000
 2. China     3,388,400               0.25  1,371,738,000
 3. Pakistan     2,134,900               1.13   188,925,000
 4. Bangladesh     1,531,300               0.95   160,996,000
 5. Uzbekistan     1,236,600               3.97    31,125,000
 6. North Korea     1,110,000               4.37    25,155,000
 7. Russia     1,048,500               0.73   143,335,000
 8. Nigeria      875,500               0.48   182,202,000
 9. Democratic Rep. of Congo      873,100               1.13     4,620,000
10. Indonesia      736,100               0.29   257,564,000

Source: Global Slavery Index 2016

Interesting Facts:

  • The number of modern slaves (45.8 million according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index) is 28 percent higher than the number that was reported in the 2014 edition. However, this difference is mainly caused by a different methodology and data compiling process applied during research. The 2016 index is based on 42,000 interviews in 25 nations
  • Cambodia is the country with the highest amount of modern slaves in the Southeast Asian region. According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index 1.6 percent of the Cambodian population is victim of slavery. However, in absolute terms, Indonesia leads the ranking in Southeast Asia
  • Combined, there are 26.6 million victims of slavery living in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Together, these five countries account for 58 percent of total global slavery
  • The Walk Free Foundation is an Australia-based human rights group
  • Most modern slaves - nearly two-thirds - can be found in Asian countries. This is attributed to the huge number of people living in Asia, while this continent is also well integrated into the global supply chains