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Forced labour takes different forms, including debt bondage, trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The victims are the most vulnerable – women and girls forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers kept there by clearly illegal tactics and paid little or nothing. Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 20.9 million people around the world are still in forced labour, more than half of whom are women and girls. Available data indicate that numbers of people in forced labour are not decreasing and may even be on the rise.
According to the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), forced or compulsory labour is all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily. It can occur where work is forced upon people by State authorities, by private enterprises or by individuals. The concept of forced labour covers a wide range of coercive labour practices, which occur in all types of economic activity and in all parts of the world (36).
Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 18.7 million are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 2.2 million are in state-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
Vestiges of slavery are still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive and deceptive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, 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 through threats or 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 trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. Trafficking in persons has been the subject of growing international attention in recent years. Finally, forced labour is still imposed by the State for the purposes of economic development or as a punishment, including for expressing political views (37).
ILO’s work towards the eradication of forced labour is grounded in two core conventions complemented by a Protocol:
- The Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labour. Exceptions are provided for work required by compulsory military service, normal civic obligations, as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, in cases of emergency, and for minor communal services performed by the members of a community in the direct interest of the community.
- The Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) 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.
- The Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 and the Forced Labour (Supplementary Measures) Recommendation, 2014 (No. 203) aim to advance prevention, protection and compensation measures, as well as to intensify efforts to eliminate contemporary forms of slavery. The Forced Labour Protocol entered into force on 9th November 2016, a year after it gained its second ratification. It means that all countries that have ratified now have to meet the obligations outlined in the Protocol.
- Raise awareness of forced labour and promote ratification related instruments;
- Improve statistics, data collection and research for better policies;
- Enhance policies, action plans and the capacity of national and regional institutions to combat forced labour and human trafficking;
- Strengthen legislation to protect victims, prevent and prosecute the use of forced labour;
- Promote fair labour recruitment practices and good migration governance;
- Support the empowerment of people at risk and address the root causes of forced labour;
- Enforce criminal, labour and other relevant legislation effectively; and
- Protect victims of forced labour and provide access to remedies.
Forced labour in all its forms can be considered the antonym to Decent Work, and the eradication of forced labour advances the Decent Work Agenda in all its dimensions. As mentioned above, the elimination of forced labour is the subject of two of ILO’s eight fundamental conventions, which must be observed by all ILO member states, irrespective of them having ratified or not. All ILO constituents contribute to the struggle against forced labour and the remnants of slavery.
The fight against forced labour engages governments, employers, workers and civil society in its entirety, and social dialogue is an essential strategy to win this fight. In the private sector, many codes, agreements and initiatives refer to the prohibition of forced labour. Both the IOE and the ITUC maintain dedicated web sites on forced labour and trafficking.
Some 60 per cent of the victims of forced labour and trafficking are women, the majority of whom are forced into sexual exploitation or are exploited in agriculture or domestic work. This calls for gender-specific and gender-responsive strategies to end forced labour.
50 for Freedom” campaign with the aim of persuading at least 50 ILO member states to ratify the 2014 Protocol. So far, eight ratifications have been registered. The Alliance 8.7 formed in 2016, brings together governments, workers, employers and like-minded organizations, and seeks to eradicate both forced labour and child labour.
IPEC+ Flagship programme, which was launched in 2016.
With a relatively small team at headquarters and no technical specialists dedicated to forced labour ILO’s capacity in this area depends to a large extent on extra-budgetary resources. In recent years the sensitivity of the global donor community to forced labour issues has grown, and new, relatively large regional programmes have been approved. It is hoped that this endeavour will continue through the work of Alliance 8.7.
project web page. Publications and documents relating to forced labour can be found at the programme’s resources page. Statistics and indicators on forced labour and trafficking can be found here.
36. ILO. Forced labour, human trafficking and slavery. International Labour Office - Topics. [Online] 7 November 2016. /global/topics/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm.
37. —. International Labour Standards on Forced labour. Internatiomal Labour Office - Topics. [Online] 7 November 2016. /global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm.
38. —. ILO IPEC+ Flagship Strategy. Geneva : ILO Fundamentals, 2016.