Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 553, 15 September 2022

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2021: Six takeaways
Madhura Mahesh

The International Labour Organization published the “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2021: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage” in September 2022. The report estimates that there are 50 million people living in conditions of modern slavery on any given day out of which 12 million are children. It outlines the conditions and trends in modern slavery and then provides policy solutions to meet the goals set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end forced labour and forced marriage by 2030. 
Six takeaways 
First, an increase in the number of modern slavery cases in Asia and the Pacific. The data shows an increase (since 2016) of 2.7 million in forced labour, and 6.6 million in forced marriages; forced labour went up from 24.9 million in 2016 to 27.6 million in 2021, and forced marriages went up from  15.4 million in 2016 to 22 million in 2021.  The data highlight how the problem is not restricted to one region or low-income countries alone, but prevalent worldwide irrespective of their income levels or development. According to the report, Asia and the Pacific had the highest numbers (30 million) of people in some form of modern slavery, be it forced labour or forced marriage. It was followed by Africa (seven million), Europe and Central Asia (six million), the Americas (five million), and the Arab States (two million). However, on the prevalence of modern slavery in terms of proportion of the population, the Arab States have the highest with 10.1 cases per 1,000 population.  

Second, the domination of the private sector. Eighty-six percent of all forced labour happened through private agents of which 63 percent were categorised as forced labour exploitation and 23 percent as forced commercial sexual exploitation. About 14 percent of the remaining could be under the State-imposed forced labour. From 2016 to 2022 private manufacturing and services (excluding domestic work) had the highest number of reported cases (three million and 5.5 million respectively) of forced labour. 

Third, victims of forced labour and forced marriages. Conflicts, crises, poverty, debts, and other factors force people into modern slavery. First, labourers are those who are forced to work more than the agreed amount of time or to work involuntarily for someone. Second, children are employed the most with 3.3 million involved in domestic work, forming a gateway for child trafficking and sexual exploitation.  Third, migrant workers who are the most vulnerable of all to end up in forced labour. Forced labour is a result of “irregular or poorly governed migration, or unfair and unethical recruitment practices.” The 2021 Global Estimate found that of all adults in forced labour exploitation, 15 percent were migrants.

Fourth, causes of modern slavery. Coercion plays an important role, especially migrants, in instances of forced marriage and labour. Threats to one’s family and sexual and physical violence compel people into modern slavery. Due to the patriarchal nature of society, gender disparity exists when it comes to forced marriage. Conflict-prone areas are another source for forced labour and forced marriages, as highlighted by the report. People are recruited in these conflicts against their will, especially children, who are used as child soldiers. They are used as human shields, bodyguards, and spies, and women and children are sexually exploitated and are forced into marriages during times of conflict; and even in post-conflict periods many see marriage as a way of alleviating poverty and as a means of survival. 

Fifth, pandemic-induced forced labour and marriage. When the pandemic began there was a rise in child labour to compensate for labour loss and demand due to restrictions placed by the countries on the manufacturing sector, in general, but pushing specific industries to meet the demand of medical and protective equipment. The pandemic exposed the already vulnerable to even more hardships with a lack of job and steady income, pushing them into debt traps and eventually into forced labour and debt bondages. With education and helpline programmes coming to a halt, it prevented people from accessing support services and identification measures, thereby exposing those vulnerable to forced labour.  

Sixth, the report outlines recommendations to achieve Agenda 2030. The ILO calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the challenge of modern slavery by addressing violent conflicts, the patriarchal nature of society, and poverty. It suggests offering assistance and protection to those who are already in forced labour and marriage through identification and granting aid. It recommends a legal framework within which this economic and social protection should be undertaken to prevent vulnerable people from becoming a part of the cycle again. The report also suggests legislative measures to be gender inclusive that address the gender disparity and protection of the rights of workers, migrants, and minorities to prevent forced labour and marriage.       

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