What is forced labour of children and how can businesses help to end it?

What is forced labour of children and  how can businesses help to end it?

What is forced labour of children and how can businesses help to end it?

Sustainable Development Target 8.7  aims to eradicate child labour by 2025 and forced labour by 2030. The ILO Global Business Network on Forced Labour (ILO GBNFL) supports companies, their representative organizations, and partners to meet these targets.


The 2021 UN International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour (IYECL) provides a unique opportunity to accelerate the pace of progress. The ILO GBNFL has decided to highlight one of the worst forms of child labour: Forced labour of children.

Where forced labour and child labour overlap, children are in forced labour. Forced labour of children is less understood than both child labour and forced labour because it has not been as well researched. Some types of child labour, such as hazardous work, or specific types of forced labour of children, such as commercial sexual exploitation, have benefited from more research.1

This brief seeks, firstly, to raise awareness of forced labour of children by summarizing and sharing the limited amount of information currently available. It focuses on forced labour of children in the private economy, and not on, for instance, state-imposed forced labour of children or child soldiers. This brief also outlines actions for the business community to help end forced labour of children and meet Sustainable Development Target 8.7. Importantly, this brief is intended only as an introduction to the topic. More detailed guidance on addressing forced labour of children is forthcoming in 2022.

Recommended actions for companies:

  • Make a commitment and act on it- Regardless of company size, a commitment to addressing forced labour of children is paramount.
  • Target action- Understanding the nature of forced labour of children is key to tackling it. Address forced labour of children where it is most prevalent, including in domestic economies and lower tiers of supply chains.
  • Identify risks- Gather information on risk factors and act accordingly. Apply the ILO’s 11 indicators of forced labour while bearing in mind that children are generally more vulnerable than adults to coercion and deception.
  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate- Companies stand to benefit from working with employer and business membership organizations, worker representative organizations, child and forced labour experts, as well as local stakeholders.
  • Work with relevant authorities and/or experts to remove children from forced labour- Where forced labour of children is identified, coordinate with (local) experts and the respected authorities to remove the child(ren) from the situation as soon as safely feasible. Ensure this is done in a manner that preserves the immediate and long-term interests of the child.
  • Recognize the role of national governments and advocate for action- Businesses can play an important role in eradicating forced labour of children, but they cannot do it alone. National governments, regional authorities, and local institutions must create and enforce the right regulatory framework.

The nature of forced labour of children

ILO’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) defines forced labour of any person, regardless of their age, as: In the case of forced labour of children, further nuances were added through the ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), which applies to anyone under the age of 18. The convention states that forced labour of children includes:

  • All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour
  • The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances
  • The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in relevant international treaties.

Generally, forced labour of children takes two forms. In the first form, parents are in a situation of forced labour with their children working alongside them or for the same employer. In practice children who work because their parents are in forced labour are also considered as victims of forced labour.2

Children may also be trafficked, deceptively recruited, or coerced into working for an employer without their parents. Examples of this could include children who migrate alone or who are trafficked into forced domestic work. In this case, guardians are unlikely to be aware of the situation of the child.3

While both adults and children can be victims of forced labour, children have inherent rights and needs that differ from those of adults. These rights are set out in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This international legal instrument recognizes children’s right to protection from economic exploitation and from performing work that is hazardous, interferes with education, or that can be harmful to a child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development.

Read full report here.