The 21 Million Modern Day Slaves

 In News

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), an arm of the UN, conducted its first truly comprehensive report on forced labour. Its conclusions revealed a massive, multibillion-dollar industry built on the backs of 21 million modern day slaves.

These men, women, girls and boys are victims of coercion, abduction, deception, abuse or some combination thereof. Forced labourers can be found in every part of the world working in industries from the sex trade to agriculture, and they cannot escape their plight. Poverty abounds, employers exploit and governments are either unaware, powerless or complicit.

The ILO report surveyed countries worldwide to determine the demographics of forced labour. Of the 21 million modern day slaves, 55% are female and 45% are male, and 74% over the age of 18, meaning there are more than 5 million child slaves.

The profits generated by these forced labourers depend on the region. For example, the Asia-Pacific region has the greatest number of forced labourers (12 million), but they generate among the least – $5,000 per victim annually. Developed nations, meanwhile, benefit from the $34,800 produced by each of their 1.5 million forced labourers.

In terms of industry, sexual exploitation enslaves 4.5 million people, generating $99 billion. The 14.2 million people remaining are enslaved in domestic work (generating $8 billion), agriculture ($9 billion) and mining, manufacturing and construction ($51 billion). In total, these 21 million people generate $150 billion each year – and see none of it.

The ILO report identifies the main causes for this disgusting practice, and they are rooted in poor infrastructure, labour policies and economies. As people are flung into poverty with no social safety net to support them, corrupt third parties exploit their desperation. Many victims are held in debt bondage and creditors threaten their families. Others are poorly educated or illiterate. Others find themselves enslaved far from home – 44% of forced labourers are migrants who went abroad searching for opportunity.

Though international conventions on slavery go back to the early 1900s, no real data had been gathered on the issue until the early twenty-first century. These metrics are vital to understanding the causes, effects and scale of the problem. This new ILO report presents the most up-to-date, accurate information we have on forced labour. Governments, the private sector and trade unions must take notice of this data and put the ILO’s recommended solutions into practice. By getting more workers to organise and call for workers’ rights, implementing effective labour regulation, seeking and punishing unscrupulous employers and ensuring global value chains contain no forced labour links, we can see this reprehensible industry destroyed and 21 million men, women and children set free.


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