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Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage

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Executive summary

The 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery are presented as a contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular to Target 8.7, which calls for effective measures to end forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking, as well as child labour in all its forms. It is intended to inform policy making and implementation of target 8.7 and related SDG Targets. These include eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (SDG 5.2), eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilations (SDG 5.3), ending abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children (SDG 16.2), and facilitating orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies (SDG 10.7).

The estimates herein are the result of a collaborative effort between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). They benefited from inputs provided by other UN agencies, in particular the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In the context of this report, modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery like practices, and human trafficking. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery focus on two main issues: forced labour and forced marriage. The estimate of forced labour comprises forced labour in the private economy (forms of forced labour imposed by private individuals, groups, or companies in all sectors except the commercial sex industry), forced sexual exploitation of adults and commercial sexual exploitation of children, and state-imposed forced labour.

Due to limitations of the data, as detailed in this report, these estimates are considered to be conservative.

The global figures

An estimated 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016. In other words, on any given day in 2016, there were likely to be more than 40 million men, women, and children who were being forced to work against their will under threat or who were living in a forced marriage that they had not agreed to.

Of these 40.3 million victims:

  • 24.9 million people were in forced labour. That is, they were being forced to work under threat or coercion as domestic workers, on construction sites, in clandestine factories, on farms and fishing boats, in other sectors, and in the sex industry. They were forced to work by private individuals and groups or by state authorities. In many cases, the products they made and the services they provided ended up in seemingly legitimate commercial channels. Forced labourers produced some of the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and they have cleaned the buildings in which many of us live or work.

  • 15.4 million people were living in a forced marriage to which they had not consented. That is, they were enduring a situation that involved having lost their sexual autonomy and often involved providing labour under the guise of “marriage”.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounting for 28.7 million, or 71 per cent of the overall total. More precisely, women and girls represent 99 per cent of victims of forced labour in the commercial sex industry and 58 per cent in other sectors, 40 per cent of victims of forced labour imposed by state authorities, and 84 per cent of victims of forced marriages.

One in four victims of modern slavery were children. Some 37 per cent (5.7 million) of those forced to marry were children. Children represented 18 per cent of those subjected to forced labour exploitation and 7 per cent of people forced to work by state authorities. Children who were in commercial sexual exploitation (where the victim is a child, there is no requirement of force) represented 21 per cent of total victims in this category of abuse.

In the past five years, 89 million people experienced some form of modern slavery for periods of time ranging from a few days to the whole five years. The average length of time victims were in forced labour varied from a few days or weeks in some forms imposed by state authorities to nearly two years for forced sexual exploitation.