Almost 21 million people live in forced labour, trafficking and modern slavery that generates in the private economy US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year, about three times more than previously estimated, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO). Asia-Pacific is the region where there are more illegal profits from these activities ($ 51.8 billion) followed by the developed economies and the EU ($ 46.9 billion).

The ILO report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, said two-thirds of the estimated total of US$ 150 billion, or US$ 99 billion, came from commercial sexual exploitation the more profitable kind of modern slavery, while another US$ 51 billion resulted from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities.

According to the report, the vast majority of the 21 million forced labourers (90 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Of these 4.5 million (22 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million (68 per cent) are victims of forced labour exploitation, primarily in agriculture, construction, domestic work, manufacturing, mining and utilities. The remaining 2.2 million (10 per cent) are in state-imposed forms of forced labour, such as prisons, or in work imposed by military or paramilitary forces.

Women and girls represent the greater share of the total: 11.4 million (55 per cent) compared to 9.5 million (45 per cent) men and boys. Adults are more affected than children: 15.4 million (74 per cent). But the number of children in slavery and forced labour is extremely high: 5.5 million.

About the impact of migration in forced labour, the report found that the majority (56 per cent) were subject to forced labour wiring their place of origin or residence. The study also showed that cross border movement is strongly associated with forced sexual exploitation, while a majority of forced labourers in economic activities and almost all those in state-imposed forced labour have not left their home areas.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts by far for the largest number of forced labourers: 11.7 millions (56 per cent of the global total) who generated illegal profits for their exploiters for $ 51.8 billion per year. The second highest number is found in Africa at 3.7 millions (18 per cent) who generated $13.1 billion, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean with 1.8 million victims (7 per cent) and $ 12 billion in profits. The developed economies and European Union account for 1.5 million of victims, and the profit generated is huge ($ 46.9 billion); while countries of Central, South Eastern and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States have 1.6 million of victims and profits of $ 18 billion. There are an estimated 600,000 victims in the Middle East who generated $ 8.50 billion in profits.

“This new report takes our understanding of trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery to a new level,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Forced labour is bad for business and development and especially for its victims. Our new report adds new urgency to our efforts to eradicate this fundamentally evil, but hugely profitable practice as soon as possible.”
The report highlights income shocks and poverty as the main economic factors that push individuals into forced labour. Other factors contributing to risk and vulnerability include lack of education, illiteracy, gender and migration.

“While progress is being made in reducing state-imposed forced labour, we must now focus on the socio-economic factors that make people vulnerable to forced labour in the private sector,” said Beate Andrees, head of the ILO’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour.

“If we want to make a significant change in the lives of the 21 million men, women and children in forced labour, we need to take concrete and immediate action,” the ILO Director-General said. “That means working with governments to strengthen law, policy and enforcement, with employers to strengthen their due diligence against forced labour, including in their supply chains, and with trade unions to represent and empower those at risk.”

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. I find those figures extraordinary, Olga: frankly, I would’ve had them virtually reversed.
    Who in the Asia Pacific region is supposed to be doing this, I wonder …?

  2. I read the whole report and it only provides data by region, not by country. It includes only a detailed study of some countries of Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe.

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About Olga Brajnović

Journalist. In my fifties. I've worked for 26 years in a newspaper in Spain. I worked for two years as a stringer and correspondent in the US, and went as a special envoy to other places like the Balkans. Sea lover. Avid reader. Classic Music enthusiast.

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