Forty million men, women, and children remain in modern slavery today, of which twenty-five million are in forced labor and fifteen million in forced marriage. The majority are women and girls, including nearly all of the 4.8 million victims of forced sexual exploitation.
The first international convention on forced labor was adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1930 (Convention 29). It states that forced labor is a “service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
The world’s only tripartite multilateral organization, the ILO celebrated its centenary in 2019, marking one hundred years of governments, workers, and employers working together to achieve social justice. Its close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor over the past twenty-five years has helped to expand the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) and bring ninety million children out of work.
Progress on forced labor has been slower, but the adoption in 2014 of a Protocol and Recommendation to Convention 29 has provided fresh impetus. It sends a clear message to all stakeholders and countries that forced labor and human trafficking are serious human rights violations and crimes and need to be dealt with as such.
The ILO, the International Organisation of Employers, and the International Trade Union Confederation organized the “50 for Freedom Campaign” aimed at expanding ratification of the 2014 Protocol on Forced Labor.
The campaign reached its goal just last week, on March 17, when the protocol received its fiftieth ratification. Fifty member states from all parts of the world have now committed to “develop[ing] a national policy and plan of action for the effective and sustained suppression of forced or compulsory labor in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations.”
Nevertheless, the challenge remains daunting. The COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflict, climate change, and natural disasters have put the most vulnerable members of our societies, including migrants, at greater risk. They often face physical and sexual violence as part of an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation, which can include the withholding of wages or important documents like passports, or debt bondage resulting from recruitment costs.
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