Hong Kong, a city commonly associated with finance and wealth, has one of the highest proportions of people enslaved across Asia, a new report has found.
At least 29,500 people out of a population of more than seven million are trapped in modern slavery in one of the 10 richest cities in the world based on its gross domestic product, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016, which assessed the problem in 167 countries and regions.
The sobering figures which specifically concern Hong Kong may come as a surprise, but the hard-hitting report stated that the city has become one of the worst places in Asia for its poor response to the problem, performing worse than mainland China.
The city urgently needs tougher laws and a "transparent plan of action" to combat the problem, human rights group Justice Centre Hong Kong said.
Jade Anderson, anti-human trafficking coordinator for the campaign group, said the Global Slavery Index, produced by charitable organisation Walk Free Foundation, came as a "shock" to some Hongkongers.
But her organisation's research had found there were major human rights abuses that went unpunished in the city, and the number of slaves could be much higher than researchers have estimated, she said. The Justice Centre's investigation involving 1,000 migrant domestic workers found 17 per cent were carrying out "forced labor", which she said equated to about 55,000 of the city's 320,000 helpers.
"We believe that Hong Kong needs a transparent plan of action to combat human trafficking, forced labor, or slavery-like practices, and protect victims," she said. "And ultimately there needs to be legislative reform. Hong Kong must develop more comprehensive policies and laws to protect victims."
Hong Kong's proportion of people classified as slaves (0.404 per cent) is the ninth-highest in Asia and 32nd in the world, the same rank as 19 countries including South Korea, in the slavery index. Mainland China, meanwhile, was ranked lower on its proportion of slaves, due to its much larger population, taking the 14th spot in Asia. But it was among the top five countries in the world for estimated numbers of people in modern slavery (3.39 million).