Forced labour

Towards stronger measures to combat abusive labour recruitment and to prevent human trafficking

The present proposal aims to address regulatory and enforcement gaps with regards to contemporary labour recruitment practices within and across national jurisdictions as part of a broader strategy to prevent human trafficking.


In today’s globalized economy, workers are increasingly looking for job opportunities beyond their country or community of origin. As of 2013, an estimated 232 million people lived outside their country of origin. In addition, millions of workers are on the move within their countries in search of decent work. The recruitment and employment of workers across global supply chains is becoming a pressing concern for businesses as labour shortages persist in certain economic sectors. Much of the process is facilitated by social and informal networks (e.g. family, friends, and informal brokers), however, private employment agencies play an increasing role in matching supply and demand, providing training for workers and negotiating the terms of employment with employers.

While private employment agencies play a legitimate role in the labour market, concerns have been raised about the growing proliferation of informal labour brokers and criminal trafficking networks. Recent reports, including the ILO 2009 Global Report titled “The cost of coercion”, have highlighted the widespread use of informal intermediaries, especially by low-skilled workers. These informal recruitment practices exacerbate the risk of abuse, forced labour and human trafficking. The most widely cited abuses include deception about the nature and conditions of work, retention of passports, deposits and illegal wage deductions, debt bondage linked to the repayment of recruitment fees, threats if workers want to leave their employers and in some instances physical violence.


The overall objective of this project is to develop effective solutions aimed at reinforcing labour and criminal justice to combat abusive labour recruitment practices, in particular those that could be associated with human trafficking, such as the role of recruitment fees charged to workers. The project will be implemented in close collaboration with UNODC that will launch a similar initiative, focusing in particular on the response of criminal justice systems. It will build on the on-going efforts of the ILO to foster a global “Fair Recruitment Initiative” to help prevent human trafficking and enhance development gains of labour mobility, and will contribute to at least one of ILO’s nineteen strategic outcomes, namely the elimination of forced labour.

The immediate objectives of the project are:
  • to enhance global knowledge and understanding of effective remedies for abusive labour recruitment practices, based on an analysis of criminal and labour law, including enforcement mechanisms; and
  • to formulate and promote effective regulatory and enforcement measures as part of a broader strategy to prevent human trafficking

Main Activities

The main activities include:
  1. Two inter-regional thematic expert meetings involving ILO constituents and other key stakeholders to present research findings and formulate policy recommendations
  2. A final conference to launch a global report, raise global awareness on the need to reinforce regulatory and enforcement measures against abusive labour recruitment practices and endorse recommendations, which can later be submitted to ILO governing bodies and other UN mechanisms


Key outcomes of this global project include:
  1. Analysis of the different approaches to the regulation of recruitment and the application of ILO instruments, particularly Convention No. 181, in ratifying and non-ratifying member States;
  2. Analysis of the efficiency of enforcement mechanisms with particular emphasis on labour inspection;
  3. Mapping of national regulations that contain joint and multiple liability provisions and of cross jurisdictions challenges, including in accessing justice;
  4. Analysis of the perspectives of workers’ and employers’ organizations regarding the performance of self-regulation and non-judicial dispute settlement mechanisms (e.g. collective bargaining agreements, industry-led codes of conduct, etc.);
  5. Global report on effective remedies against abusive labour recruitment;


ILO constituents, policy makers (including line Ministries), law enforcement officials, civil society organizations, media professionals and academics.

Beneficiaries – Target Group

The project will reach out to the following main groups in order to ensure the high quality of knowledge collected, as well as recommendations formulated:
  • ILO constituents (Ministries of Labour, Workers’ and Employers’ Organizations) and other key stakeholders, including labour inspectors, labour and penal court judges, policy makers, civil society actors and academics.