The ILO, the private sector, and the fight against forced labour

Forced labour takes many different forms. Individuals, often migrants and vulnerable women and girls, can be trapped in debt bondage, can be forced into prostitution, or kept as sweatshop or farm workers. They are often kept by illegal means and paid little or nothing.

Forced labour is a global problem, affecting almost all countries worldwide. There are at least 12.3 million persons in forced labour today. Most victims are poverty-stricken people in Africa, Asia and Latin America, whose vulnerability is exploited by others for a profit. Over 350,000 women and men are also in forced labour in industrialized countries, trafficked for either labour or sexual exploitation.

It can be difficult to know what conditions goods sourced in supply chains are produced under. With increased globalization and the need to source internationally to remain competitive, lead buyers risk unwittingly supporting, perpetuating, and using forced labour.

Equally, employers’ organizations and businesses have a central role to play in addressing all forms of forced and compulsory labour.  Employers’ organizations, in particular, are strategically well-placed to provide institutional engagement and sustainability for programmes that address this abuse; and business involvement is a key to the success of the ILO’s campaign to eradicate forced labour by 2015.

An example of an ILO tool in this regard is the “Combating forced labour: A handbook for employers and business”. It provides guidance material and tools for employers and business to strengthen their capacity to address the risk of forced labour and human trafficking in their own operations and in global supply chains. This handbook seeks to meet the needs of employers’ organizations and individual companies worldwide for guidance on addressing forced labour and human trafficking, and provides practical tools and material for business actors of all kinds, identifying what is and is not forced labour, why it is a significant concern for business, and the action that can be taken to address it.

Others include the ILOs Global Estimate of Forced Labour, the “Good practices database – Labour migration policies and programmes”, and training packages such as the “Identifying and Investigating Cases of Forced Labour and Trafficking” course which teaches participants to better identify and investigate cases of forced labour.