Modern slavery figures show the ‘urgent need’ for a new social contract

photo: Office on Trafficking in Persons, USA

A new global estimate that 49.6 million people are in modern slavery on any given day has shown the need for immediate international action to end this scandal.

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage from the ILO, Walk Free and the IOM, calculates that the number has risen by ten million in five years.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “These findings are horrifying. It’s unimaginable what the daily reality is like for these people, and it’s indefensible that this number keeps rising.

“There are a lot of good recommendations in this report, particularly the recognition that respect for the freedom of workers to associate and to bargain collectively is a prerequisite for a world free from forced labour. Also, universal social protection, which would give working people the income security they need to potentially avoid losing their liberty to modern slavery.

“Both of these are key parts of the New Social Contract, along with climate-friendly jobs, wage justice, equality and inclusion. We need a New Social Contract now to shift power to working people to start undoing the damage of the current economic order that has led to this worsening global scandal of modern slavery.

“As a matter of urgency we call for mandated due diligence for companies to eliminate the use of forced labour and other violations in supply chains, and for national governments to regulate the labour market through strong compliance and sanctions.”

The report also calls for:

  • fair and ethical recruitment;
  • strengthened public labour inspectorates;
  • action to address migrants’ vulnerability to forced labour and trafficking for forced labour;
  • action to address children trapped in forced labour;
  • an end to state-imposed forced labour;
  • partnership and international cooperation;
  • adequate civil and criminal protections in national legislation for victims of forced marriage;
  • investment in building the agency of women and girls.

The report found that:

  • forced labour accounts for 27.6 million of those in modern slavery and forced marriage for 22 million, or nearly one of every 150 people in the world;
  • no region of the world is spared from forced labour and forced labour is a concern regardless of a country’s wealth;
  • most forced labour occurs in the private economy and touches virtually all parts of it;
  • 3.3 million children are in situations of forced labour;
  • women are more likely than men to face physical and sexual violence and threats against family members;
  • migrant workers are three times more likely to be in forced labour than other workers;
  • forced marriages take place in every region in the world and over two-thirds of those forced to marry are female.

The report defines forced marriage and forced labour as situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, deception, abuse of power or other forms of coercion.