Imagine waking up each morning with the knowledge that you are bound to perform arduous and monotonous work against your will… under constant threat of penalty… typically within appalling and unsanitary conditions…with little to no pay…and with the mindset that there are limited and unlikely prospects of escaping such oppressive conditions. This is a reality all too real for those who are trafficked for the purposes of forced labour.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has engrained the definition within their Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) it encompasses ‘all work or services, exacted from any person under the threat of penalty, for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily’. In essence, vulnerable individuals are coerced to work through violence and/or intimidation; typically coupled by other supplementary forms of repression such as debt bondage, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities (ILO, 2018).
A study conducted in 2012 by the ILO sought to understand the prevalence of the issue on a global scale. They found that of the total number of 20.9 million forced labourers, 18.7 million (90%) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals and or enterprises. Of this, 14.2 million (68%) are victims of forced labour in economic activities in areas such as agriculture, construction, domestic work/servitude or manufacturing. Within these areas many workers are subjected to poor ventilation, sanitation, work and living conditions. The World Health Organisation (2012) has reported that these conditions have given rise to serious health issues which include exhaustion, hypothermia, respiratory issues and accidental workplace injuries to name a few. The ILO also found that in terms of regional distribution which these statistics were derived, the Asian-pacific, African, Latin American and Caribbean regions account for some of the heights rates of forced labour globally.
In light of all this, what is being done to overcome these overwhelming statistics? Clearly it is a transnational issue that affects millions of individuals – and what is concerning is that within most countries, offences like forced labour, human trafficking and slavery-like practices are outlawed within national legislation; which has obviously had no effect in deterring or preventing the prominence of this issue!
In June of 2014, the ILO at the International Labour Conference (ILC) decided to put forward new recommendations in an attempt to rectify and give new impetus to the global fight against forced labour and its subsets (ILO, The Protocol (ND). The conference led to the adoption of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced labour convention (1930) and the Forced Labour (Supplementary Measures) Recommendations, (2014) (No. 203) which supplemented the Forced Labour Convention (1930) (No.29) (ILO, The Protocol (ND). This attempted to introduce new recommendations in order to provide greater enforcement power and flexibility to international instruments. To be achieved by strengthening existing international law, which included the UN slavery conventions, and UN protocols, applying as well for regional instruments such as the Council of European Convention in Action on Trafficking in Human Beings, as well as affording specific guidance on existing effective measures. It also attempted to correct the issue by also employing strategies which focused on; prevention, protection and remedies in order to eliminate all forms of forced labour on a global scale. (ILO, Protocol (ND).
From the reports since the protocols introduction, many of these exampled instruments have contributed to widespread prohibitions in combating slavery, forced labour and human trafficking practices as a whole (ILO, The Protocol (ND). Nonetheless, the scale of this problem globally has made it difficult to get to the source of the problem, especially given the limited time the provisions have been active, merely scratching the surface of the problem. Recommendations based on this evidence require a greater focus on prevention strategies to ensure more effective results; for example, the need to ‘strengthen the role of labour inspections, and workers and employer’s organisations’ so as to monitor business and their practices so as to ensure they are within legal parameters of work health and safety legislations/provision’s (ILO, The Protocol (ND). It is believed that by doing this, and by placing greater emphasis on protection and access to justice brought on by the protocol, it will ultimately assist to ensure that vulnerable individuals human rights can be upheld, and perpetrators are punished.
We can only hope that future interventions conducted by the ILO and other organisations can continue to make positive developments. Perhaps through wide ratification and collaborations with other countries on a global scale, we may begin to see more significant results and an eradication of forced labour.
International Labour Organisation 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour Summary:
ILO: The Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention:
ILO – What is forced labour, modern slavery & human trafficking 1996 -2018:
Forced Labour Convention:
Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
R203 – Forced Labour (Supplementary Measures) Recommendation, 2014 (No. 203):
P029 – Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930:
World Health Organisation: