Men women and children caught in forced labour

Forced labour is any work or services which people are forced to do against their will under the threat of some form punishment.  Almost all slavery practices, including trafficking in people and bonded labour, contain some element of forced labour.

Forced labour affects millions of men, women and children around the world and is most frequently found in labour intensive and/or under-regulated industries, such as:

  • Agriculture and fishing
  • Domestic work
  • Construction, mining, quarrying and brick kilns
  • Manufacturing, processing and packaging
  • Prostitution and sexual exploitation
  • Market trading and illegal activities


The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are at least 20.9 million people in forced labour worldwide. The figure means that, at any given point in time, around three out of every 1,000 persons worldwide are suffering in forced labour.

Some more detailed ILO’s statistic:

  • 18.7 million (90%) people are in forced labour in the private economy, exploited by individuals or enterprises. Out of these, 4.5 million (22%) are in forced sexual exploitation, and 14.2 million (68%) in forced labour exploitation in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing.
  • Women and girls represent the greater share of forced labour victims 11.4 million (55%), as compared to 9.5 million (45%) men and boys.
  • Adults are more affected than children 74% (15.4 million) of victims fall in the age group of 18 years and above, whereas children are 26% of the total (or 5.5 million child victims).
  • 2.2 million (10%) work in state-imposed forms of forced labour, for example in prisons under conditions which violate ILO standards, or in work imposed by the state military or by rebel armed forces.


In around 10 per cent of cases the State or the military is directly responsible for the use of forced labour. Notable examples where this takes place are Burma, North Korea and China.  However, in the vast majority of cases forced labour is used by private individuals who are seeking to make profits from the exploitation of other people.

Victims of forced labour are frequently from minority or marginalised groups who face institutionalised discrimination and live on the margins of society where they are vulnerable to slavery practices. Forced labour is usually obtained as a result of trapping the individual in debt bondage or by restricting their freedom of movement.  In other cases violence, threats and intimidation are used and/or there is an absence of effective State protection.


Forced labour is a global problem, although some regions have larger numbers of people affected than others.  The regional distribution of forced labour is:

  • Asia and Pacific: 11.7 million (56%)
  • Africa: 3.7 million (18%)
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 1.8 million (9%)
  • The Developed Economies (US, Canada, Australia, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Japan): 1.5 million (7%)
  • Central, Southeast and Eastern Europe (non EU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CSEE): 1.6 million (7%)
  • Middle East: 600,000 (3%)


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