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21 million people are now victims of forced labour, ILO says

According to new ILO estimates, three out of every 1,000 people worldwide are trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave.

Press release | 01 June 2012

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Geneva (ILO News) – Nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour across the world, trapped in jobs which they were coerced or deceived into and which they cannot leave, according to the ILO’s new global estimate.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world – 11.7 million (56 per cent) of the global total, followed by Africa at 3.7 million (18 per cent) and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 per cent).

Victims of forced labour by region


The head of the ILO’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, Beate Andrees, says that the methodology has been revised and improved since the ILO’s initial estimate in 2005 and the numbers are more robust now. “We have come a long way over the last seven years since we first put an estimate on how many people were forced into labour or services across the world. We have also made good progress ensuring most countries now have legislation which criminalises forced labour, human trafficking and slavery-like practices”.

Forced labour in numbers

  • Three out of every 1,000 people worldwide are in forced labour today.
  • 18.7 million (90 %) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Of these, 4.5 million (22 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million (68 per cent) are victims of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing.
  • 2.2 million (10%) are in state-imposed forms of forced labour, for example in prisons, or in work imposed by the state military or by rebel armed forces.
     
  • 5.5 million (26 %) are below 18 years.
  • The number of victims per thousand inhabitants is highest in the central and south-eastern Europe and Africa regions at 4.2 and 4.0 per 1,000 inhabitants respectively. It is the lowest in the Developed Economies and European Union at 1.5 per 1,000 inhabitants.
  • The relatively high prevalence in central and south-eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States can be explained by the fact that the population is much lower than for example in Asia and at the same time reports of trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation and of state-imposed forced labour in the region are numerous.
  • The Developed Economies and European Union have 1.5 million (7 per cent) forced labourers.
  • Central and south-eastern European countries, and the Commonwealth of Independent States account for 1.6 million (7 per cent).
  • There are an estimated 600,000 (3 per cent) victims in the Middle East.
  • 9.1 million victims (44 %) who have moved either internally or internationally. The majority, 11.8 million (56 %), are subjected to forced labour in their place of origin or residence. Cross-border movement is heavily associated with forced sexual exploitation.
Beate Andrees says that attention should now turn to better identification and prosecution of forced labour and related offences such as human trafficking.

“The successful prosecution of individuals who bring such misery to so many remains inadequate – this needs to change. We must also ensure that the numbers of victims does not rise during the current economic crisis where people are increasingly vulnerable to these heinous practices.”
 
 

Further information

Forced labour is the term used by the international community to denote situations in which the persons involved – women and men, girls and boys – are made to work against their free will, coerced by their recruiter or employer, for example through violence or threats of violence, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities. Such situations can also amount to human trafficking or slavery-like practices, which are similar though not identical terms in a legal sense. International law stipulates that exacting forced labour is a crime, and should be punishable through penalties which reflect the gravity of the offence.

 ILO Conventions


  • Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29): This fundamental convention prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labour, which is defined as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily." Exceptions are provided for work required by compulsory military service, normal civic obligations, as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law (provided that the work or service in question is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the person carrying it out is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations), in cases of emergency, and for minor communal services performed by the members of a community in the direct interest of the community. The convention also requires that the illegal exaction of forced or compulsory labour be punishable as a penal offence, and that ratifying states ensure that the penalties imposed by law are really adequate and strictly enforced. 
     
  • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105): This fundamental convention prohibits forced or compulsory labour as a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system; as a method of mobilising and using labour for purposes of economic development; as a means of labour discipline; as a punishment for having participated in strikes; and as a means of racial, social, national or religious discrimination.

See also

Tags: forced labour

Unit responsible: Programme for the Promotion of the Declaration

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