Created in partnership with the Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights

Contextual Risk Factors

The prevention of forced labour requires an understanding of its underlying causes and the consideration of a wide range of issues, from poor legal protections to restriction of movement.

Key risk factors include:

  • Inadequate legal framework offering a poor standard of legal protection against forced labour. A lack of strong laws against forced labour or inadequate criminal sanctions can result in a lack of deterrence.
  • Poor enforcement of domestic labour laws as a result of inadequate training, an under-resourced labour inspectorate or high levels of corruption.
  • High levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment, particularly in countries where the informal economy constitutes a high percentage of the overall workforce. Where there is a lack of State support or formal contracts enshrining workplace rights, workers face greater vulnerability to poor working conditions that may amount to forced labour.
  • High levels of migration, particularly of low-skilled and low-paid labour, exacerbates the likelihood of forced labour and other labour rights violations (see Migrant Workers issue). Migrants make up a much larger proportion of those subject to forced labour in specific sectors and locations. Undocumented migrants or those who have their legal employment status tied to their employer under sponsorship visa programmes may be unwilling to report labour rights violations or may be unable to leave or return home without the explicit permission of the sponsor.
  • Lack of understanding of what constitutes forced labour among workers. Migrant workers, in particular those who may not speak the local language or be aware of their rights under the law, are more vulnerable to exploitation by third-party agencies or employers. This puts them at a greater risk of practices that could constitute conditions amounting to forced labour, such as being subject to excessive recruitment fees or having their identity documents retained.
  • The use of recruitment agencies and other labour intermediaries raises the risk of labour rights violations. The most common violation is the charging of excessively high recruitment fees that leave migrant workers in substantial debt leading to conditions amounting to forced labour or debt bondage.
  • Unskilled or low-skilled work where the barriers to entry are low may lead to a higher risk of exposure to forced labour. This includes what is often known as “3D”, or “dirty, difficult and dangerous” jobs. Industries that have low barriers to entry may be at a greater risk of trafficking. While low wages are not necessarily linked to trafficking, pressure to keep labour costs low creates a “race to the bottom”, which in turn may be associated with exploitative working conditions that amount to forced labour.
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