International Labour Standards on Forced labour

Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 20.9 million people around the world are still subjected to it. Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 18.7 million (90 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 2.2 million (10 per cent) are in state-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million (22 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million (68 per cent) of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year: two thirds of the estimated total (or US$ 99 billion) comes from commercial sexual exploitation, while another US$ 51 billion results from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities (Note 1).

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.

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 and the comments of the supervisory bodies, in combination with experience from technical assistance and cooperation, have provided important guidance to member States to develop a comprehensive response to forced labour.

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.
  • Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 and Forced Labour (Supplementary Measures) Recommendation, 2014 (No. 203)
    A new legally binding Protocol on Forced Labour, supported by a Recommendation (No. 203), aiming to advance prevention, protection and compensation measures, as well as to intensify efforts to eliminate all forms of forced labour, including trafficking in persons.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further information


Note 1 - ILO global estimates of forced labour: results and methodology (Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour), Geneva, 2012