3.5 people for every 1,000 engaged in forced labour: ILO study

Illegal profits from forced labour increase by 37% in 10 years

Updated - April 12, 2024 02:21 pm IST

Published - March 19, 2024 09:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI

ILO Director General Gilbert F. Houngbo said forced labour perpetuates cycles of poverty and exploitation and urged the international community to come together to take action to end this injustice. Representational

ILO Director General Gilbert F. Houngbo said forced labour perpetuates cycles of poverty and exploitation and urged the international community to come together to take action to end this injustice. Representational | Photo Credit: Reuters

A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), released in Geneva on Tuesday, has found that forced labour generates illegal profits worth $236 billion per year.

This is an increase of 37% of such illegal profits since 2014 and the study said this is fuelled by both a growth in the number of people forced into labour, as well as higher profits generated from the exploitation of victims. For the study, surveys have been conducted among workers, including Indian workers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The report, titled ‘Profits and poverty: The economics of forced labour’, also estimates that traffickers and criminals are generating close to $10,000 per victim, up from $8,269 (adjusted for inflation) a decade ago. “Total annual illegal profits from forced labour are highest in Europe and Central Asia ($84 billion), followed by Asia and the Pacific ($62 billion), the Americas ($52 billion), Africa ($20 billion), and the Arab States (US$18 billion),” the report said.

The report also said forced commercial sexual exploitation accounts for more than two-thirds (73%) of the total illegal profits, despite accounting for only 27% of the total number of victims in privately imposed labour. “After forced commercial sexual exploitation, the sector with the highest annual illegal profits from forced labour is industry, at US$35 billion, followed by services (US$20.8 billion), agriculture (US$5.0 billion), and domestic work (US$2.6 billion). These illegal profits are the wages that rightfully belong in the pockets of workers but instead remain in the hands of their exploiters, as a result of their coercive practices,” ILO Director General Gilbert F. Houngbo said.

“Forced labour perpetuates cycles of poverty and exploitation and strikes at the heart of human dignity. We now know that the situation has only got worse. The international community must urgently come together to take action to end this injustice,” said the ILO Director General.

There were 27.6 million people engaged in forced labour on any given day in 2021, the report said, meaning 3.5 people for every 1,000 people in the world. “Between 2016 and 2021, the number of people in forced labour increased by 2.7 million,” it said.

The report also stresses the urgent need for investment in enforcement measures to stem illegal profit flows and hold perpetrators accountable. It has recommended for strengthening legal frameworks, providing training for enforcement officials extending labour inspection into high-risk sectors, and better coordination between labour and criminal law enforcement.

“Yet forced labour cannot be ended through law enforcement measures alone, enforcement actions must be part of a comprehensive approach that prioritises addressing root causes and safeguarding victims, underlines the report,” it concluded.

It said promoting fair recruitment processes is also crucial, given that forced labour cases can often be traced back to recruitment abuses as well as the apparent importance of unlawful recruitment fees and costs as a source of illegal profit from forced labour. “Ensuring the freedom of workers to associate and to bargain collectively is also essential to building resilience to the risks of forced labour,” the report said.

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