On day five of the 104th session of the International Labour Conference, Niger became the first country to ratify the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention.
Speaking today at a signing ceremony during the 104th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Niger’s Minister of Employment, Labour and Social Security, Salissou Ada, said it was a historic moment.
“This has great significance for Niger. This reflects the firm commitment of the President of the Republic of Niger, his excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, who has made the fight against this scourge, against this social evil, his priority.”
The Protocol adds new impetus to the global fight against forced labour, including trafficking in persons and slavery-like practices.
Director-General of the International Labour Organization Guy Ryder welcomed Niger’s ratification.
“This is, ladies and gentlemen, a historic moment because this is the first ever ratification of the protocol which was approved by this conference last year. This is the protocol of the Convention on Forced Labour of 1930.”
The ILO estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour, generating illicit profits of about $150 billion dollars a year.
Victims of forced labour are exploited in agriculture, fishing, domestic work, construction, manufacturing, mining and other economic activities. Women and girls, in particular, are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
Niger ratified the Forced Labour Convention in 1961, after becoming independent in 1960. In 2002, Niger adopted legislation to outlaw slavery, with provision for strong penalties for anyone convicted of holding slaves. However, a survey conducted in 2008 by the national Statistics Institute of Niger and the ILO found that more than 59,000 adults and children – out of a total population of 13 million - are victims of forced labour. This is mostly related to vestiges of slavery and deeply-rooted practices of discrimination.
A global campaign at the end of the ILC will be launched to encourage at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol by 2018. To enter into force, the Protocol needs ratification by two ILO member States.
Later in the day, the migration crisis brought together high-level panelists at a side event.
Opening the event, the ILO Deputy Director for Policy, Sandra Polaski, called on the global community to have the courage to act in the face of migrants’ journeys of desperation.
“No one can remain unaffected when we see the pictures of the tragedies unfolding in the Mediterranean and the Andaman seas and beyond. Men, women and children driven by conflict, persecution, poverty or marginalization continue to risk their lives in search of adequate livelihoods and shelter.”
The event, was held on day five of the 13-day conference hosted by the International Labour Organization in Geneva.
The ILO last year held the chair of the Global Migration Group, an inter-agency body seeking better measures to govern migration. Of the world’s population of 7 billion, 1.5 billion people are estimated to be living in conflict and fragility-affected states, and that number is still growing. Last year, seafarers rescued over 44,000 migrants.
The EU has increased its rescue operations in the Mediterranean but since January, almost 2,000 people have died.
Polaski said the first priority was to save lives but that the problems which lead to migrants seeking work through irregular channels needed to be addressed.
“There is no easy fix. We must focus on systems of governance that provide regular and safe migration to meet migrants’ needs and labour market needs. We must also work to ensure creation of more and better jobs in countries of origin, to address the root causes of migration.”
The UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, said that addressing labour issues was vital in protecting refugees.
“Anything to do with labour, work and decent work conditions is at the very center of their human dignity but also the sustainability of them being productive members of a social and economic framework.”
In closing the event, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said the economic case for migration was stronger now than ever before, even amid growing political and social barriers.
“It’s no use in us making an appeal to economic rationality in dealing with migration because you miss a lot of the story and you fall into the trap of treating labour as a commodity if you deal with migration as a purely economic equation. It has economic benefits. We need to make sure those are understood. But there are a whole surrounding package of social issues that we have to deal with because we’re not dealing with commodities. We’re dealing with human beings.”
Reporting for the ILO at the Palais des Nations, this is Carla Drysdale.