Forced labour makes €109.5 billion a year


Girls in red in the red-light district in Amsterdam [Trey Ratcliff]

Sexual exploitation contributes two thirds of the annual €109.5 billion of illegal profits made from forced labour worldwide, a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found.

More than a quarter of the €72 billion profits from sexual exploitation are made in developed economies and the European Union. That makes forced sexual labour, “five times more profitable than forced labour exploitation outside domestic work,” and “six times more profitable than all other forms of forced labour,” the report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, said.

“Nearly $8 billion (€5.8 billion) is generated in domestic work by employers who use threats and coercion to pay no or low wages,” the study said.

The report does not take into account state-imposed forced work.

“While progress is being made in reducing state-imposed forced labour, we must now focus on the socio-economic factors that make people vulnerable to forced labour in the private sector,” said Beate Andrees, head of the ILO’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour.

“This new report takes our understanding of trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery to a new level,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Forced labour is bad for business and development and especially for its victims. Our new report adds new urgency to our efforts to eradicate this fundamentally evil, but hugely profitable practice as soon as possible.”

Annual profits are highest in the Asia Pacific, followed closely by the developed economies and the European Union. The Middle East is last with $8.5 billion per year, compared to 46.9 for developed regions of the world.

Most victims are women and girls

Over half (55%) of the global victims are women and girls, the study showed, with the largest share of women being exploited by the sex industry and in domestic labour.

Boys and men more often fall prey to forced economic exploitation in sectors such as agriculture, construction and mining.

Forced labour, the report said, “thrives in the incubator of poverty and vulnerability, low levels of education and literacy, migration and other factors.”

Once trapped in forced labour victims remain caught in a, “vicious circle that condemns them to endless poverty.”

Economic problems that push households further into poverty, and often below the food poverty line, also increase the likelihood of forced labour, the authors warned.

Effects are also felt by “regular” citizens since it creates an unfair business environment, disadvantaging law-abiding businesses and employers.

Possible solutions

The ILO will establish a working group of statisticians, economists and other experts to work on improved data collection. It will standardise data collection to better measure and understand information and risk.

But action from governments is needed too. “Measures are needed to strengthen laws and policies and reinforce inspection in sectors where the risk of forced labour is high,” the report said.

“This should be linked to an early identification system of victims and their effective protection. Labour rights violations should be swiftly punished and criminal sanctions should be imposed on those who prey on particularly vulnerable workers,” it added.

Governments, workers, employers and all stakeholders need to work together to strengthen preventive measures and eradicate this modern form of slavery, the ILO experts concluded.

The ILO’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930 defines forced labour 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''. Forced labour includes practices such as slavery and those similar to slavery, debt bondage and serfdom as defined in other international instruments, such as the League of Nations Slavery Convention (1926) and the UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery.

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