New figures published by the ILO estimate the total number of forced labourers across the world at nearly 21 million. This means that three out of every 1,000 people worldwide are in forced labour today. These new figures aim to inform better global policy responses to end the crime of modern forced labour.
What is forced labour? Is it the same as trafficking and slavery?According to the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention 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 is quite broadly defined and thus covers a wide range of coercive labour practices, which occur in all types of economic activity and in all parts of the world.
The ILO has two Conventions on Forced Labour (No. 29 adopted in 1930 and No. 105 adopted in 1957). The first defines forced labour, and provides for certain exceptions, including compulsory military service, civic duties, work required to cope with an emergency situation, and prison labour under certain stipulated conditions. The second adds a specific obligation for States never to impose forced labour as a means of political coercion or education, punishment for expressing political views or participating in strikes, mobilising labour for economic development, labour discipline or for racial, social, national or religious discrimination.
Both Conventions enjoy nearly universal ratification, meaning that almost all countries are legally obliged to respect their provisions and regularly report on them to the ILO’s standards supervisory bodies. Not being subject to forced labour is a fundamental human right: all ILO member States have to respect the principle of the elimination of forced labour regardless of ratification.
Human trafficking can also be regarded as forced labour, and so the ILO estimate captures virtually the full spectrum of human trafficking abuses or what some people call “modern-day slavery.” The only exceptions to this are cases of trafficking for organ removal, forced marriage or adoption, unless the latter practices result in forced labour.