The latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and international human rights group Walk Free, revealed that last year, some 50 million people were living in modern slavery: 28 million in forced labour and 22 million in forced marriages.
“It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.
“Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights”.
The report of the specialized agency highlights that the phenomenon of modern slavery appears in almost every country in the world and that it transcends ethnic, cultural and religious lines. More than half (52%) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages take place in upper-middle or high-income countries.
Most cases of forced labour -86%- were located within the private economy and the remaining 14% occurred at the state level. 63% of those affected by this form of exploitation work in various sectors and 23% work in forced commercial sexual exploitation, an area in which almost four out of five people are women or girls.
The total number of women and girls in a situation of forced labour amounts to 11.8 million, while the number of children who suffer from it and do not attend school is more than 3.3 million.
Migrant workers are more than three times more likely to be in forced labour than their non-migrant counterparts.
Although labour migration has a broadly positive effect on individuals, households, communities and societies, this finding demonstrates how migrants are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking, whether caused by irregular migration, or for unfair and unethical hiring practices.
“We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done,” said the top ILO official. “Effective national policies and regulation are fundamental”.
But governments cannot do it alone, he continued, explaining that international standards provide “a sound basis,” and that an “all-hands-on-deck approach” is needed.
“Trade unions, employers’ organizations, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play”.
During the last five years, the number of forced marriages grew by 6.6 million, reaching a total of 22 million. However, the agency clarifies that the number of cases, especially those affecting children under 16, is probably much higher than current estimates reflect since they are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages.