Forced labour is defined by International Conventions as "any form of involuntary work imposed under the threat of penalty." This definition includes both labour camp inmates, debt bondage or workers whose employers retain wages or identity papers.

According to the ILO report "A global alliance against forced labour", forced labour is defined as "a long and painful labour, performed under harsh and very low pay conditions. It must be executed without consent and under the threat of punishment. The latter may consist in physical violence - beatings, torture, sexual abuse - or psychological violence - confiscation of identity papers, threat of expulsion."

If, for the most part, forced labour in the private sector is an illegal activity, it permeates into the mainstream economy through subcontracting, the general trend being to minimize labour costs in order to increase competitiveness. As a result, forced labour can be found in the supply chain of private companies, including multinational corporations (MNCs).

As key contributors to the promotion of forced labour, the ILO report points to migration, particularly illegal, combined with inadequate recruitment agencies and subcontracting system controls, and weak labour inspectorates.

The groups most vulnerable to forced labour are women, racial or ethnic minorities, migrants, children, and the poor.

The ILO defines the seven main forms of forced labour as:

  • Slavery
  • Debt Bondage
  • Trafficking in persons
  • Prison labour
  • Compulsory labour
  • Military work
  • Abuse of homeworkers

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