New handbook “Combating forced labour: A handbook for employers and business”

This new handbook provides guidance material and tools for employers and business to strengthen their capacity to address the risk of forced labour and human trafficking in their own operations and in global supply chains.

News | 22 October 2008
Contact(s): Mr Philip Hunter,

This handbook seeks to meet the needs of employers’ organisations and individual companies worldwide for guidance on addressing forced labour and human trafficking. It provides practical tools and material for business actors of all kinds, identifying what is and is not forced labour, why it is a significant concern for business, and the actions that can be taken to address it.


Forced labour and human trafficking are becoming increasingly important issues for employers and their organisations, including not only small enterprises on the margins of the formal economy, but also large multinational enterprises with complex supply chains. The ILO estimates that 80 percent of all forced labour abuse takes place in the private economy. Though much of this is in the informal economy, several major companies have had to deal with allegations of forced labour in recent years.

The role of employers and business

Employers’ organisations and business have a central role to play in addressing all forms of forced and compulsory labour. Employers’ organisations, in particular, are strategically well-placed to provide institutional engagement and sustainability for programmes that address this abuse; and business involvement is a key to the success of the ILO’s campaign to eradicate forced labour by 2015.

There are many reasons why business and employers’ organisations should play a central role in the global fight against forced labour and human trafficking:

  • Legal compliance: Forced labour and trafficking in persons are punishable as crimes in most countries around the world, and companies found involved in such activities could face prosecution.
  • Managing risk and reputation: To be successful, companies must manage risk in an environment where risk is not static and can emerge through the actions of the company itself, its suppliers and other actors. Allegations of forced labour and trafficking present legal risks as well as serious threats to brand and company reputation.
  • Forced labour in global supply chains: Globalisation and the growing links across countries and firms have raised forced labour and trafficking in persons as significant issues within global supply chains.
  • Codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR): The elimination of forced labour is a key element of codes of conduct and other CSR initiatives. Companies – particularly those that supply consumer markets and have significant brand value – face new and growing expectations that production will comply with social and human rights criteria.
  • Forced labour and human trafficking are morally unacceptable.

The handbook

In a series of seven booklets, the handbook provides guidance on preventive and remedial action, reviews good practice in combating forced labour, and presents information relevant to senior business managers, human resource personnel, sourcing and social compliance staff, social auditors and others. The handbook is comprised of the following:

  • Booklet 1 - Introduction and Overview: Presents information about relevant international standards, recent figures and data, and forms of forced labour in the global economy alongside excerpts of international Conventions and Protocols.
  • Booklet 2 - Employers' Frequently Asked Questions: A quick reference guide for managers, human resource personnel and others, that answers FAQs from employers. The guide addresses topics such as prison labour, forced overtime and debt bondage in an easy-to-use format.
  • Booklet 3 - Guiding Principles to Combat Forced Labour: A set of principles based on ILO standards and jurisprudence to guide business action against forced labour and trafficking.
  • Booklet 4 - A Checklist and Guidance for Assessing Compliance: A checklist designed for social auditors and other practitioners for use in enterprise-level assessments. The tool includes questions as well as policy guidance and technical advice on how to conduct assessments.
  • Booklet 5 - A Guide for Taking Action: Presents some of the key measures that companies and employers' organisations can take to address forced labour at enterprise, national and industry levels, and in global supply chains.
  • Booklet 6 - Tips for Taking Action: A set of practical reference guides that identify some of the concrete measures and benefits that companies can take to address forced labour and trafficking.
  • Booklet 7 - Case Studies: Selected examples of company and industry action that indicate the variety of approaches business actors can take in addressing forced labour at the workplace and in supply chains.

This handbook was prepared in close co-operation with the International Organisation of Employers in the context of an expert group initiative on supply chain management of the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT).