Although forced labour is universally condemned, the ILO recently estimated that at least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide. Of these, 9.8 million are exploited by private agents, including more than 2.4 million in forced labour as a result of human trafficking. Another 2.5 million are forced to work by the State or by rebel military groups. Traditional slavery is still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, in parts of the Caribbean and elsewhere. In numerous countries, domestic workers are trapped in situations of forced labour, and in many cases they are restrained from leaving the employers' home by means of threat or actual violence. Bonded labour persists in South Asia where millions of men, women, and children are tied to their work through a vicious cycle of debt. In Europe and North America, an increasing number of women and children are victims of traffickers who sell them into forced prostitution or sweatshops. Finally, forced labour is sometimes still imposed as a punishment for expressing one's political views.
For many governments around the world the elimination of forced labour remains an important challenge for the 21st century. Not only is forced labour a serious violation of a fundamental human right, it is a leading cause of poverty and a hindrance to economic development. ILO standards on forced labour, in combination with targeted technical assistance, are the primary international tools for combating this scourge.
Selected relevant ILO instruments
- Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) - [ratifications]
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 extraction of forced or compulsory labour be punishable as a penal offence, and that ratifying states ensure that the relevant penalties imposed by law are adequate and strictly enforced.
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) - [ratifications]
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 mobilizing 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.
Additionally, forced or compulsory labour is considered as one of the worst forms of child labour in the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).
- Further relevant instruments
- General Survey on the Fundamental Conventions (2012) - [pdf]
- General Survey on Forced Labour (2007) – [pdf]
- Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL)
- A Global Alliance against Forced Labour: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2005)
- Stopping forced labour: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2001)
- Meeting of Experts on Forced Labour and Trafficking for Labour Exploitation (11-15 February 2013)