Profits linked to forced labor are three times higher than previously thought, according to a report released this week by The International Labor Organization (ILO). Every year, forced labor yields illicit profits of $150.2 billion, two-thirds of which are linked to sexual exploitation, with the private sector and in domestic work accounting for the rest.
Low levels of literacy and education, poverty, and debt are factors that increase the risk of being victimized. The charging of recruitment fees by rogue recruiters and criminal organizations also expose workers to debt bondage.
Women and girls, who account for more than half of the estimated 21 million people in forced-work situations, tend to be in commercial sexual exploitations and domestic work. Men, meanwhile, are more commonly exploited in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and mining.
In an effort to help combat forced labor, the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (Ciett) partnered with the ILO and the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) in July last year on an initiative called the “Work in Freedom.” The aim of the initiative is to promote ILO Convention 181 and professionalize the recruitment industry in South Asia (India, Nepal and Bangladesh) and the Middle East (Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE).
Convention 181 established conditions governing the operation of private employment agencies through licensing and certification, defines rules and regulations that provide for penalties for those involved in fraudulent practices, endorses the creation of complaints and investigation machinery and allocates the responsibilities of private employment agencies and employers.
Ciett, the ILO and DFID are working together to educate staffing companies and recruitment organizations on fairer employment practices and supporting their adoption of Convention 181. The Convention’s adoption can be instrumental to enable the recruitment industry to fight forced labor and guarantee high quality services to workers and companies in full respect of the fundamental principles and rights of work.
However, according to Ciett, the Work in Freedom project is only scheduled to run for five years and has a budget of only $12 million. The intentions of the three organizations, the ILO, DFID and Ciett are the right ones but they need to back it with more money, legal and political clout.
Where there is a demand for forced labor, it’s not easy to stop people from finding a way to supply it. Given the profits made from forced labor, it will take a lot more heft than the $12 million Work in Freedom initiative to stem the tide.