Forced labour

ILO hails US campaign against "modern slavery"

The International Labour Organization welcomes US President Barack Obama’s strong stance against forced labour, which affects some 21 million people worldwide.

News | 28 September 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – New US measures against what President Barack Obama has termed “modern slavery”, will help raise awareness about a scourge that affects three out of 1,000 people worldwide, the ILO said.

“The new measures and the powerful statements by President Obama can play a major role in highlighting the sheer magnitude of human trafficking, which affects every country in the world to some degree or other,” said Beate Andrees, who heads the ILO’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour.

The new measures and the powerful statements by President Obama can play a major role in highlighting the sheer magnitude of human trafficking."
Beate Andrees
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 ILO estimates published earlier this year.

Ninety per cent of the victims are exploited by private individuals and enterprises, while 10 per cent are forced to work by the state, by rebel military groups or in prisons. Sexual exploitation accounts for 22 per cent of all victims and labour exploitation makes up 68 per cent of the total.

“The successful prosecution of individuals who bring such misery to so many remains inadequate – this needs to change,” Andrees said.

In a speech on September 25, President Obama said human trafficking was nothing less than “modern slavery”, and battling it is "one of the great human rights causes of our time."

He announced a series of new measures to step up the fight against human trafficking, and issued an executive order to further strengthen what he said was an already strict policy to prevent the use of force labour by US government contractors.

Global estimate of people in forced labour 20.9 million
Asia and Pacific 11.7 million
Africa 3.7 million
Latin America and the Caribbean 1.8 million
Developed Economies 1.5 million
Central, Southeast and Eastern Europe (non EU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1.6 million
Middle East 600,000
An example of these measures is the requirement by each contractor and subcontractor of the US government to maintain a compliance plan containing “a recruitment and wage plan that only permits the use of recruitment companies with trained employees, prohibits charging recruitment fees to the employee, and ensures that wages meet applicable host country legal requirements or explains any variance.”

The victims of forced labour are usually vulnerable groups of people – low skilled workers kept by illegal means and paid little or nothing. Many are women and girls forced into prostitution and migrant workers trapped in debt bondage.

The ILO works closely with government partners, workers, employers and parliamentarians around the world to improve legislation and implement national policies against forced labour and the conditions that give rise to it.

Most ILO Member States have ratified the two ILO Conventions specifically dealing with forced labour: Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105.)