Category Archives: Slavery, Forced Labor

The International Labor Organization estimates that 40 million people are victims of modern slavery. This includes 25 million people in forced labor and 15 million people in forced marriage. This means that there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every thousand people in the world, about 0.5 percent (one half of one percent). There were 5.9 adult victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 adults in the world and 4.4 child victims for every 1,000 children in the world.

Those in forced labor 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.

Most victims of forced labor suffered multiple forms of coercion from employers or recruiters as a way of preventing them from being able to leave the situation. Nearly one-quarter of victims (24 per cent) had their wages withheld or were prevented from leaving by threats of non-payment of due wages. This was followed by threats of violence (17 per cent), acts of physical violence (16 per cent), and threats against family (12 per cent). For women, 7 per cent of victims reported acts of sexual violence.

Those in forced marriage 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 labor 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. Women and girls represent 99 per cent of victims of forced labor in the commercial sex industry and 58 per cent in other sectors, 40 per cent of victims of forced labor 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 labor 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.

(All of the above taken from ILO 2017.)

Cruel Outcomes: How weak corporate governance and internal controls in the palm oil industry allow abuse of foreign and local workers

Liberty Shared September 2020

This document does not seek to revisit or summarize previous
research and conclusions about abuse suffered by migrant workers
entering Malaysia to work on palm oil plantations. There are
many excellent reports and materials available that examine the
abuse of workers and the failures of companies to improve their
plantation management practices, such as Amnesty International’s
Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia, (2010);
Business and Human Rights S.I (; Fair Labour
Association’s Mapping Study on Seasonal Agriculture Workers and
Worker Feedback and Grievance Mechanisms in the Agricultural
Sector, (2018); Suisse Solidar’s Exploited and Illegalized: The Lives
of Palm Oil Migrant Workers in Sabah, (2019), and Earthworm
Foundation’s Insights Into Recruitment Costs and Practices Amongst
Small-Medium Sized Companies In The Palm Oil Industry In
Peninsular Malaysia, (2019).

This document argues that, firstly, despite over a decade of
reporting and research on abusive recruitment practices and
abusive working conditions on plantations and despite the
representations and statements set out in the increasingly
prolific human rights and sustainability corporate disclosure,
it is time to accept that a substantial proportion of the millions
of individuals arriving to offer their labour to plantations,
of whatever size, do so in a state of vulnerability caused
by the manner of their recruitment. Whether due to debt
arrangements, poverty, illegal status or deception, the palm oil
industry, particularly those who lead the industry, should and
must seek to alleviate and resolve these vulnerabilities and not
exacerbate and capitalize on them by allowing vulnerability to
become a lever for coercive and abusive labor management
practices by plantations managers, supervisors and forepeople.
Second, it seems clear that the ongoing industry-wide failure to
prevent abusive and coercive practices on plantations is caused
by deep structural issues grounded in a long history of terrible
labor practices begun in the industrial rubber agricultural
sector during the British administration of Malaya and largely
continued since then to today.

Third, evidence of the comprehensive and far-reaching work
needed to build and implement a governance framework to
remedy and rectify this situation, in other words to create
businesses and a business-operating environment that actually
offers vulnerable workers support to reduce and resolve their
vulnerabilities, rather than exploit them, appears sorely lacking.

Fourth, the implementation of corporate sustainability and
ethical practices is a desired end state, one that will be dynamic
and active. However, there is no chance at all of achieving the
creation of an organization that is sensitive to the wider social
and environmental issues without that company having robust,
sufficient and well implemented corporate governance, risk
management and internal controls (together organizational
corporate governance and controls). From the examination of
annual reports and sustainability statements, and considering
what has been learned from workers themselves, it is clear
that design and implementation of corporate governance,
risk management and internal controls and the design and
implementation of a sustainability agenda remain two parallel
lines of management activity. Never meeting, the development
of sustainability practices and the development of organizational
corporate governance and controls are largely considered
separately. This is very convenient for many corporations and
boards of directors as the arrangements keep the objectives of
sustainable practices away from corporate governance, which
has regulatory and legal requirements, and therefore avoids
creating joint and several obligations and liability on the board of
directors and senior executives.

Finally, it is time that the vast cornucopia of public disclosure
created in the name of sustainable and ethical practices is linked
clearly and transparently to implemented underlying organizational
corporate governance, risk management and internal controls and
the underlying laws and regulations that require such organizational
corporate governance and controls. The formulation and publication
of these policies, as expensive as the process of creation is, must
lead to identifiable ongoing, consistent and monitored corporate
procedures and practices that are enforced by the business – it is
these that must be clearly disclosed on a regular basis.

See full report (40 page PDF file)

Slavery, Forced Labor 2020

Supreme Court weighs child-slavery case against Nestlé USA, Cargill Peter Whoriskey Washington Post December 1, 2020
Despite years of promises by the chocolate industry, child labor remains widespread on cocoa farms.

Apple is lobbying against a bill aimed at stopping forced labor in China Reed Albergotti Washington Post November 20, 2020
Apple wants to water down key provisions of the bill, which would hold U.S. companies accountable for using Uighur forced labor, according to two congressional staffers.

A trafficked survivor reunites with family in Vietnam. Credit: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

Modern slavery in Asia Pacific fueled by widespread poverty, migration and weak governance – Part 1 Neena Bhandari Inter Press Service May 15, 2020

Forced marriage, organ trafficking rife in Asia Pacific – Part 2 Neena Bhandari Inter Press Service May 15, 2020

Slavery, Forced Labor 2019

29 rescued from forced labor slavery Justice Ventures International May 14, 2019

Behind illicit massage parlors lie a vast crime network and modern indentured servitude Nicholas Kulish, Frances Robles and Patricia Mazzei New York Times March 2, 2019

Slavery is not a thing of the past, it still exists today affecting millions Shannon Scribner Inter Press Service February 28, 2019

Forced labor, child work, low wages: the lives of home-based garment workers in India Marjorie van Elven Fashion United February 6, 2019