Forced labour a 'social evil,' says UN report

ILO report shows more than 12 million people are trapped in forced labour

More than 12 million people around the world are trapped in forced labour, according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Juan Somavia, general director of the Geneva-based agency that is under the umbrella of the United Nations, called the problem a “social evil which has no place in the modern world” in the wake of the report that shows millions are exploited through forced labour in the private economy, rather than imposed directly by states.

Of these about 2.4 million are victims of human trafficking. It said employers are exploiting these trafficked women, children and men to the tune of $40.4 billion each year — an average of $16,833 from every single trafficked forced labourer.

“Forced labour represents the underside of globalization and denies people their basic rights and dignity,” said Somavia. “To achieve a fair globalization and decent work for all, it is imperative to eradicate forced labour.”

The report, A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour, sheds light on the sectors this exploitation occurs in, such as agriculture, construction, informal sweatshop manufacturing and brick making.

It said exploitation is evenly divided between the genders, with the exception of commercial sexual exploitation. In that area virtually all of the victims are female with girls under 18 comprising up to 50 per cent of the victims.

Forced labour concentrated in developing countries

Most of the forced labour can be found in developing countries. The vast majority (9.5 million) are in Asia. Other trouble spots include:

•Latin America and the Caribbean (1.3 million);
•Sub-Saharan Africa (660,000); and
•Middle East and North Africa (260,000).

The report said there are 360,000 forced labourers in industrialized countries and a further 210,000 in transition countries.

But the problem is particularly acute in developing countries, where older forms of forced labour are mutating into newer ones. Debt bondage — the practice of paying off a family’s loans through the labour of family members — frequently affects minorities that have traditionally experienced discrimination in the labour market. It adds up to a recipe that puts workers in a vicious cycle of forced labour that is tough to escape.

Many victims are required to work in remote areas where labour inspection is a challenge. Other factors, such as inadequate controls over recruitment agencies and subcontracting systems and weak labour inspection, also play a role in making it easier for employers to exploit workers.

Solving the problem

The pressure to deregulate labour markets as part of the overall drive to reduce labour costs and increase competitiveness in a global market raise difficult policy questions, said Somavia.

“There is a critical need for devising effective strategies against forced labour today,” he said. “This requires a blend of law enforcement and ways of tackling the structural roots of forced labour.”

Forced labour can only be abolished with the help of governments and national institutions, the report said. They must pursue active policies, vigorous enforcement and show strong commitment to eradicating such treatment of human beings, it said.

Countries that have tackled forced labour with strong legislation and enforcement mechanisms, and implemented policies and programs to help tackle the underlying causes, have made great strides in helping victims rebuild their lives, the report said.

“Although the numbers are large, they are not so large as to make abolishing forced labour impossible,” said Somavia.

He called for governments, employers, workers’ organizations, development agencies, international financial institutions and academic institutions to form a global alliance to fight forced labour.

“With political will and global commitment over the next decade, we believe forced labour can be relegated to history,” he said.

The ILO is the UN agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights.

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