U.N. labor agency reports “obscene” yearly profits from forced labor - FreedomUnited.org

U.N. labor agency reports “obscene” yearly profits from forced labor

  • Published on
    March 19, 2024
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  • Category:
    Forced Labor
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The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) newly released figures calculating illegal profits generated by forced labor worldwide show a huge increase over the last ten years according to the Associated Press. Up 37% from the last estimate of US $150 billion, the agency cites the annual total as at least $236 billion.

The report explains more people are being exploited and more cash is being generated whilst also noting that some profits have not been included in their calculations, such as forced prison labor and illegal recruitment fees, because of data challenges. Even at this level, the report’s introduction makes clear that the ILO considers the $236 billion figure obscene.

Earnings effectively “stolen from the pockets of workers”

Forced labor is any work done by the employee under penalty or the threat of penalty and it can happen at any phase of employment. This includes during the recruitment process, the living conditions associated with work or workers forced to stay in a job they want to quit. The latest estimates by the ILO are that on any given day in 2021, an estimated 27.6 million people were in forced labor. That’s a 10% rise from 5 years earlier with more than half of that number coming from the Asia-Pacific region, with Africa, the Americas, and Europe-Central Asia making up the rest.

ILO Director-General, Gilbert Houngbo, said,

“Forced labor perpetuates cycles of poverty and exploitation and strikes at the heart of human dignity, (and) we now know that the situation has only got worse.”

The ILO further found that 85% of the people in modern slavery were working in “privately imposed forced labor,” which includes slavery, serfdom, bonded labor, and forced begging. The $236 billion annual amount represents earnings “effectively stolen from the pockets of workers” by the people forcing them to work, as well as money taken from remittances of migrants and lost tax revenue for governments.

Sexual exploitation tops the list in profits

The report found that although just over a quarter of the victims worldwide were subject to sexual exploitation, the profits account for nearly $173 billion or nearly three-quarters of the global total pointing to the higher profit margin for selling sex. On any given day, nearly 4 out of 5 of the 6.3 million people in situations of forced commercial sexual exploitation were girls or women, and children accounted for more than a quarter of the total cases according to the report. Industry, agriculture, and domestic work made up the rest of the total number.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, called the ILO findings “shocking and appalling”, stating,

“Forced labor is the opposite of social justice. Let me be very clear. Business must never be done at the expense of workers, dignity and labor rights.”

Manuela Tomei, ILO’s assistant director-general for governance, underlined that while the data on regions and types of labor most affected is useful in unpacking modern slavery globally, “no region is immune” to forced labor and every economic sector is involved.

Freedom United agrees with the ILO that forced labor and its illegal profits not only encourage corruption but also strengthen criminal networks and incentivize further exploitation. Together with the ILO, we call on the international community to cooperate to help fight it. That’s why we started a petition calling on governments globally to pass laws to ensure companies put people and the planet before profits. We want to hold the private and public sectors accountable for extractive, exploitative practices that fuel human trafficking and forced labor and hurt people and the planet.

If you haven’t already, you can sign the petition here. Join a growing community of people and organizations standing up for the 27.6 million men, women and children working each year under forced labor, because everyone deserves to work with dignity and freedom.



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