ILO Releases New Report on Forced Labour
Thursday, May 19, 2005 11:00 AM

GENEVA (ILO News) - At least 12.3 million people are trapped in forced labour around the world, the International Labour Office (ILO) said in a new study released today. ILO Director-General Juan Somavia called forced labour "a social evil which has no place in the modern world".

The new report, entitled "A global alliance against forced labour" (Note 1), says that nearly 10 million people are exploited through forced labour in the private economy, rather than imposed directly by states. Of these, the study estimates a minimum of 2.4 million to be victims of human trafficking.

The report also provides the first global estimate of the profits generated by the exploitation of trafficked women, children and men - US$ 32 billion each year, or an average of US$ 13,000 from every single trafficked forced labourer.

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

The report is the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken by an intergovernmental organization of the facts and underlying causes of contemporary forced labour. It was prepared under the Follow Up to the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted by the ILO in 1998 and will be discussed at the Organization's annual International Labour Conference in June.

The new study confirms that forced labour is a major global problem which is present in all regions and in all types of economy. Of the overall total, some 9.5 million forced labourers are in Asia, which is the region with the highest number; 1.3 million in Latin America and the Caribbean; 660,000 in sub-Saharan Africa; 260,000 in the Middle East and North Africa; 360,000 in industrialized countries; and 210,000 in transition countries.

Forced economic exploitation in such sectors as agriculture, construction, brick-making and informal sweatshop manufacturing is more or less evenly divided between the sexes. However, forced commercial sexual exploitation entraps almost entirely women and girls. In addition, children aged less than 18 years bear a heavy burden, comprising 40 to 50 per cent of all forced labour victims.

Approximately one-fifth of all forced labourers globally are trafficked but the proportion varies widely from region to region, the report says. In Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of trafficked persons is less than 20 per cent of all forced labour, while in industrialized and transition countries and in the Middle East and North Africa, trafficking accounts for more than 75 per cent of the total.

Most forced labour today is still exacted in developing countries where older forms of forced labour are sometimes transmuting into newer ones, notably in a range of informal sector activities, the report says. Debt bondage frequently affects minorities - including indigenous peoples - that have long experienced discrimination on the labour market, and locks them in a vicious cycle of poverty from which they find it ever more difficult to escape. Many victims are working in remote geographical areas, where labour inspection presents a particular challenge.

The report sheds new light on the emerging forms of forced labour affecting migrant workers, in particular irregular migrants in rich and poor destination countries alike. It also examines the labour market conditions under which forced labour is most likely to occur, such as where there are inadequate controls over recruitment agencies and subcontracting systems, or weak labour inspection.

The appearance of new forms of coercion in today's globalized economy also raises some difficult policy questions. The report examines the strong pressures to deregulate labour markets as part of the overall drive to reduce labour costs and thereby increase competitiveness.

"Forced labour is the very antithesis of decent work, the goal of the ILO", says Mr. Somavia. "There is critical need for devising effective strategies against forced labour today. This requires a blend of law enforcement and ways of tackling the structural roots of forced labour, whether outmoded agrarian systems or poorly functioning labour markets".

The report makes the case that forced labour can be abolished, but only if governments and national institutions pursue active polices, vigorous enforcement and show strong commitment to eradicating such treatment of human beings. It also presents the positive experience in selected countries that, with ILO assistance, are now tackling forced labour by adopting strong legislation and enforcement mechanisms, implementing policies and programmes to tackle the underlying causes, and helping victims rebuild their lives.

"Although the numbers are large, they are not so large as to make abolishing forced labour impossible", Mr. Somavia says. "Thus, the ILO calls for a global alliance against forced labour involving governments, employers' and workers' organizations, development agencies and international financial institutions concerned with poverty reduction, and civil society including research and academic institutions. With political will and global commitment over the next decade, we believe forced labour can be relegated to history."

For further information, please contact the ILO Department of Communication,, Tel.: +4122/799-7912; or Kevin Cassidy, Declaration Communications Manager, Tel.: +4122/799-7589,

Published in: ILO Releases Major New Study on Forced Labour, Says More Than 12 Million Are Trapped in Forced Labour Worldwide, Press Release ILO/05/22, International Labour Organization, 11 May 2005.