Tougher measures needed to fight forced labour, says ILO

Tougher measures are needed to combat forced labour, which claims 21 million victims worldwide, International Labour Organization (ILO) has said in a new report.

The report shows that the victims – men, women and children are coerced into jobs they can’t leave, trapped in debt bondage, trafficked for sexual exploitation and even born into slavery.

Efforts to prevent, identify and prosecute cases of forced labour often fall short of what is needed, despite good practices in some countries, the ILO said. Many forced labour victims work hidden from public view, on fishing vessels and construction sites, in commercial agriculture and in factories.

“Forced labour encompasses brick kiln workers trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, children trafficked for forced begging and domestic workers deceived about their conditions of work,” the report said.

Debt bondage, under which labourers and their families are forced to work for an employer to pay off the debts they have incurred or inherited, remains widespread in some countries.

According to the report authors, “vestiges of slavery” still survive in some countries, where “conditions of slavery continue to be transmitted by birth to individuals who are compelled to work for their master without payment.”

Domestic workers, the majority of whom are women and girls, are often victims of abusive practices by employers, such as non-payment of wages, deprivation of liberty, and physical and sexual abuse. These practices can amount to forced labour.

Migrant workers are at risk too. The report warns that trafficking of people, including children, for sexual and labour exploitation, could increase in the future as a result of growing labour mobility.

On the other hand, the systematic imposition of forced labour by the state has declined worldwide, and has practically disappeared in the great majority of countries. State-imposed forced labour accounts for 10 per cent of the nearly 21 million victims of forced labour worldwide, according to 2012 ILO figures contained in the report.

Over recent years, there has been growing recognition of the importance of measures to deter would-be perpetrators, strengthen law enforcement responses, address demand and reduce the vulnerability of potential victims of forced labour.

But, while most countries have adopted legislation criminalizing forced labour, punishment is not always strong enough to act as a deterrent, in some cases amounting to fines or very short prison sentences.

Most countries lack comprehensive measures targeting demand for forced labour goods and services, though some countries have taken legal and other measures to discourage individuals and businesses from exploiting workers in slavery-like conditions.

Identifying victims also remains a major challenge. Some countries fail to sufficiently support labour inspections, which can play a key role in finding the victims, as well as preventing situations of abuse from degenerating into forced labour.

In many cases, measures have been taken to reduce the vulnerability of specific groups, such as awareness-raising programmes aimed at workers heading overseas.

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