Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 24.9 million people around the world are still subjected to it. Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 20.8 million (83 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 4.1 million (17 per cent) are in State-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 8 million (29 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 12 million (64 per cent) of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates some US$ 150 billion in illegal profits every year: two thirds of the estimated total (or US$ 99 billion) come from commercial sexual exploitation, while another US$ 51 billion is a result from forced economic exploitation in domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities (Note 1).
Vestiges of slavery are still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, in certain areas of the Caribbean and in other parts of the world. In numerous countries, domestic workers are trapped in situations of forced labour, and in many cases, they are restrained from leaving the employers’ home through threats or violence. Bonded labour persists in South Asia, where millions of men, women and children are tied to their work through a vicious circle of debt. In Europe and North America, a considerable number of women and children are victims of traffickers, who sell them to networks of forced prostitution or clandestine sweat-shops. Finally, forced labour is still used as a punishment for expressing political views.
For many governments around the world, the elimination of forced labour remains an important challenge in the 21st century. Not only is forced labour a serious violation of a fundamental human right, it is a leading cause of poverty and a hindrance to economic development. ILO standards on forced labour, associated with well-targeted technical assistance, are the main tools at the international level to combat this scourge.
Selected relevant ILO instruments
- Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) - [ratifications]
This fundamental convention prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labour, which is defined 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." Exceptions are provided for work required by compulsory military service, normal civic obligations, as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law (provided that the work or service in question is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the person carrying it out is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations), in cases of emergency, and for minor communal services performed by the members of a community in the direct interest of the community. The convention also requires that the illegal extraction of forced or compulsory labour be punishable as a penal offence, and that ratifying states ensure that the relevant penalties imposed by law are adequate and strictly enforced.
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) - [ratifications]
This fundamental convention prohibits forced or compulsory labour as a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system; as a method of mobilizing and using labour for purposes of economic development; as a means of labour discipline; as a punishment for having participated in strikes; and as a means of racial, social, national or religious discrimination.
- Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 and Forced Labour (Supplementary Measures) Recommendation, 2014 (No. 203)
A new legally binding Protocol on Forced Labour, supported by a Recommendation (No. 203), aiming to advance prevention, protection and compensation measures, as well as to intensify efforts to eliminate all forms of forced labour, including trafficking in persons.
- Further relevant instruments
- General Survey on the Fundamental Conventions (2012) - [pdf]
- General Survey on Forced Labour (2007) – [pdf]
- ILO Topic page: Forced Labour, modern slavery and human trafficking
- A Global Alliance against Forced Labour: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2005)
- Stopping forced labour: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2001)
- Meeting of Experts on Forced Labour and Trafficking for Labour Exploitation (11-15 February 2013)
Note 1 - ILO Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage, Geneva, 2017.