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Forced Labour

Almost 27.6 million people worldwide are trapped in forced or compulsory labour, with 17.3 million people subjected to forced labour in the private sector.

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Industry-specific Risk Factors

While forced labour is present in many industries, the 2022 ILO report suggests that the sectors where it is most prevalent include; services, construction, agriculture, domestic work and manufacturing. To identify potential forced labour risks for other industries, companies can access the CSR Risk Check.

Construction

The construction industry is estimated to be responsible for 16.3% of identified forced labour exploitation cases as of 2022 (ILO). Male victims make up most cases in the construction industry, at 86%. Construction is a rapidly growing industry, and the proliferation of third-party recruitment agencies increases the risk of workers, the majority of whom are migrants, to excessive recruitment fees. High levels of debt to such agencies leave workers in a position of debt bondage. For example, migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates are reported to have paid more than five months of wages in recruitment fees.

Construction-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Dangerous working conditions: Working conditions are notoriously demanding and dangerous, with high levels of industrial accidents. Workers employed under forced labour conditions are more vulnerable to being coerced into working in unsafe conditions that disregard occupational safety and health.
  • Project complexity: The complexity of construction projects exacerbates the risks of workers being subject to late or non-payment of wages, thus increasing their vulnerability and opportunity for abuse. Construction projects may involve hundreds of subcontractors, including labour agencies, with frequently changing workers. In many instances, contractors are not obliged to pay subcontractors until they have received payment from the client.
  • Remote worksites: Construction worksites may be remote or difficult to reach, which puts workers under greater control of their employers. Workers may face greater restrictions on movement and may be unable to seek assistance if they are subject to forced labour.
Helpful Resources

The following resources provide further information on how businesses can address forced labour responsibly in their operations and supply chains:

  • ILO, Migrant Work & Employment in the Construction Sector: This resource looks at some of the barriers migrant workers can face in accessing fair, safe and decent work in the construction sector. It includes recommendations for employers on how to ensure better working conditions for migrant workers.
  • Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, A Human Rights Primer for Business: Understanding Risks to Construction Workers in the Middle East: This resource provides specific regional advice for construction companies operating in the Middle East for key human rights risks to look out for, with a focus on labour rights issues faced by migrant workers.
  • Stronger Together: Stronger Together has developed a Construction Programme with resources aimed at tackling modern slavery in the construction industry. This includes a specialist training workshop and a best practice toolkit.
  • LexisNexis, Hidden in Plain Sight: Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry: This guidance provides key elements that construction companies must consider in tackling modern slavery.
  • Chartered Institute of Building, Construction and the Modern Slavery Act: Tackling Exploitation in the UK: This guidance provides detailed advice on how construction companies can successfully meet the mandatory reporting requirements under the UK Modern Slavery Act. It also gives practical advice on how companies can detect, support and remediate cases of modern slavery.

Electronics Manufacturing

The electronics manufacturing industry poses forced labour risks, with major electronics, telecommunications and technology brands facing forced labour allegations. The 2022 findings of a benchmarking report by KnowTheChain found that despite increased profits during the pandemic, the vast majority of ICT companies scored poorly in their efforts to address labour rights abuses in their supply chains. Companies received a median score of just 14/100, demonstrating the continued poor progress shown in previous years’ reports.

Industry-specific risk factors include the following:

    • China and Malaysia: The US Department of Labor’s 2022 report suggests that electronics produced in China and Malaysia have been found to be linked to forced labour. Migrant workers, particularly in Malaysia, are subject to excessive recruitment fees, which often plunge them into debt bondage even before the start of employment.
    • Job competition: Competition for jobs in the industry can be strong, particularly with respect to famous brands. This can result in workers working excessive hours without adequate rest. Combined with underpayment or non-payment of already low wages and excessive recruitment fees, workers may find themselves in working conditions amounting to debt bondage or forced labour.
    • Internships: Student workers are given compulsory placements in electronics manufacturing factories, modelled as “internships,” where they are forced to work excessive hours and often go unpaid or earn extremely low wages.
    • Mineral supply chains: Electronics companies may be linked to forced labour via their mineral supply chains given that some of the minerals and metals used to manufacture electronic components carry forced labour risks (i.e. during the mining process) — see the section on mining.
Helpful Resources
  • Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), Student Workers Management Toolkit: This toolkit helps human resources and other managers support responsible recruitment and management of student workers in electronics manufacturing.
  • Responsible Minerals Initiative, Material Change: A Study of Risks and Opportunities for Collective Action in the Materials Supply Chains of the Automotive and Electronics Industries: This report examines responsible sourcing of materials in the automotive and electronics industries, including association with forced labour.
  • OECD, Due Diligence Guidance in the Electronics Sector: This short guidance summarizes other OECD tools that are relevant for businesses operating in the electronics sector.

Fashion and Apparel

The fashion and apparel industry has had many documented cases of forced labour, particularly in the manufacturing stages. An increasing reliance on workers performing precarious work in the industry puts vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and women at greater risk of labour rights violations, including forced labour. 2021 findings from KnowTheChain’s benchmarking report for the apparel and footwear industry show that despite some improvements in previous years, companies’ efforts to address forced labour in their supply chains were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report found that the average benchmark score of the global apparel companies assessed was 41/100, with luxury brands performing the worst, demonstrating significant gaps that continue to exist in company efforts to combat forced labour.

Fashion and apparel specific risk factors include the following:

  • Tracing difficulties: This industry features a lot of outsourcing, subcontracting and homeworking, making tracing where a product was made and by whom difficult. A joint ILO-OECD report states that outsourcing, particularly when it is unauthorized, can increase risks of forced labour and human trafficking as it involves informal labour that can remain off the radar of auditors or labour inspectors.
  • Labour market intermediaries: Outsourcing can also involve the use of labour market intermediaries who themselves subcontract further, thus making informal labour in supply chains more opaque. The use of subcontractors, especially informal ones, increases the risk of forced labour, as they may charge workers excessive recruitment fees, which could subject workers to debt bondage. Workers may also face restrictions on mobility, illegal wage deductions and threats of penalty under subcontractors or labour intermediaries.
  • Delivery times: Pressure around delivery times in the apparel sector is another potential driver of labour rights violations. According to a joint ILO-OECD report, suppliers seeking to cope with time pressures may turn to outsourced labour, overtime and/or the use of informal labour contracting, which in turn increases the risks of labour rights violations, including forced labour.
  • Cotton production: Beyond textile and manufacturing value chains, forced labour risks are also present in cotton production. Although much progress has been made in the last decade in ending systemic forced labour in cotton production, state-sponsored forced labour in the cotton industry still exists.
Helpful Resources
  • OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector: This guidance aims to help fashion and apparel businesses implement the due diligence recommendations contained in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in order to avoid and address the potential negative impacts of their activities and supply chains on a range of human rights, including forced labour.
  • ILO, Guide for Employers on Preventing Forced Labour in the Textile and Garment Supply Chains in Viet Nam: This guide was jointly developed by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the ILO to serve as a reference point for company managers and staff responsible for human resources management and social and legal compliance issues in Vietnamese textile and garment enterprises.
  • ILO, 2020 Third-Party Monitoring of Child Labour and Forced Labour During the Cotton Harvest in Uzbekistan: This report publishes the latest ILO findings on the progress in eradicating forced labour and child labour in Uzbekistan.
  • The Know the Chain: Apparel and Footwear Benchmark Report 2021: This report analyzes how apparel companies responded to increased risks of forced labour during the COVID-19 pandemic and finds that the 37 largest global companies fail to stand up for workers who face exploitation.
  • SOMO, Spinning Around Workers’ Rights: International Companies Linked to Forced Labour in Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills: This report uses the 11 indicators for forced labour developed by the ILO to assess the working and living conditions of spinning mill workers in Tamil Nadu. Of the 11 indicators, five were found to be most relevant: abuse of vulnerability; deception; intimidation and threats; abusive working and living conditions; and excessive overtime.
  • Anti-Slavery International, Sitting on Pins and Needles: A Rapid Assessment of Labour Conditions in Vietnam’s Garment Sector: This report assesses labour conditions in Vietnam’s garment sector and finds that there is a significant risk of forced labour in this industry.
  • Clean Clothes Campaign, Labour Without Liberty: Female Migrant Workers in Bangalore’s Garment Industry: This report finds that female migrants employed in India’s garment factories that supply to big international brands are often recruited with false promises about wages and benefits and subject to conditions of modern slavery.
  • Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), An Investor Briefing on the Apparel Industry: Moving the Needle on Labour Practices: This resource guides institutional investors on how to identify negative human rights impacts in the apparel industry, including those pertaining to forced labour.

Agriculture and Fishing

According to the 2022 ILO report, an estimated 12.3% of forced labour exploitation cases can be found in the agriculture and fishing sectors. Male victims outnumber female victims by more than twice, at 68%, compared to 32% of women. The most severe cases of forced labour in the fishing sector have resulted in physical brutality and even loss of life, as has been documented in a report of forced labour on deep-sea fishing vessels in the Asian region. The US Department of Labor’s 2020 report suggests that the most common items produced by forced labour in agriculture and fishing include cotton, sugarcane and seafood. Cocoa is another agricultural commodity that is often linked to forced labour risks.

Agriculture or fishing-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Informal sector: Due to extremely high levels of informality in the agriculture and fishing sectors, workers are more vulnerable to underpayment, late payment or non-payment of wages, which may place them in situations amounting to debt bondage or forced labour.
  • Cost cutting pressures: Pressure to cut costs in the agricultural sector is one of the key drivers of labour exploitation. Low prices received for agricultural produce can lead to workers experiencing underpayment and manipulation of wages. Workers may also face elements of forced labour, such as debt bondage, physical violence, threats, verbal or sexual abuse.
  • Cotton production: State-orchestrated forced labour is prevalent in cotton production. Reports of state-imposed forced labour in Xinjiang (China) have put the spotlight on cotton and tomato production in the region. The elimination of forced and child labour in Uzbekistan is an example of how countries can demonstrate major progress through coordination and collaboration with international organizations such as the ILO and other civil society groups.
  • Migrant workers: The agricultural sector traditionally relies heavily on migrant workers, who are more vulnerable to forced labour conditions through the withholding of passports and restriction of movement. They may also be more subject to excessive recruitment fees leading to conditions of debt bondage.
  • Labour providers: A common feature of the agricultural sector is the presence of labour providers, such as employment or recruitment agencies. If such agents are unscrupulous or illegitimate, this can result in a range of abuses such as non-payment or late payment of wages, restriction on physical movement, violence and threats.
  • Isolation: Fishing industry workers may be at sea for long periods, away from the reach of national labour inspection. Due to the isolation of the workplace, workers face restriction of movement and are unable to escape once a fishing vessel is at sea.
  • Transhipment: The practice of transhipment — the act of offloading goods or containers from one ship and loading it onto another — increases the likelihood of forced labour. Transhipment activities are often illegal, involving the smuggling of criminal goods or human trafficking.
Helpful Resources
  • OECD-FAO, Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains: This guidance provides a common framework to help agro-businesses and investors support sustainable development and identify and prevent forced labour.
  • FAO, Regulating Labour and Safety Standards in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sectors: This resource provides information on international labour standards that apply in agriculture, including those on forced labour.
  • ILO, Fishers First: Good Practices to End Labour Exploitation at Sea: This resource provides examples of good practices and innovative interventions from around the world aimed at eradicating forced labour and other forms of labour exploitation in the fishing industry.
  • Fair Labor Association, ENABLE Training Toolkit on Addressing Child Labor and Forced Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains: The toolkit guides companies on supply chain mapping and forced labour in supply chains. It contains six training modules, a facilitator’s guide, presentation slides and a participant manual.
  • PRI, From Farm to Table: Ensuring Fair Labour Practices in Agricultural Supply Chains: This resource provides guidelines on what investors should be looking for from companies to eliminate labour abuses in their agricultural supply chains.
  • Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform: The SAI Platform guidance document on forced labour facilitates the development of their members’ policies on forced labour.
  • Stronger Together, Tackling Forced Labour in Agri-Businesses Toolkit: A comprehensive toolkit for agro-businesses to inform, equip and resource them to tackle forced labour. Includes practical advice on the specific steps to take across different areas of the businesses to effectively deter, detect and deal with forced labour.
  • Fairtrade International, Guide for Smallholder Farmer Organisations – Implementing Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD): This guidance was developed to provide advice and tools on HREDD for farmer organisations to implement.

Hospitality

The hospitality sector is linked to significant forced labour risks, with the ILO estimating that 32% of forced labour cases sit within the “services” category, which includes hospitality (in the 2017 report, hospitality described as “accommodation and food service activities”).

Much of the hospitality sector relies on the outsourcing of services, such as cleaning, maintenance and security. Workers who are recruited by outsourcing methods, such as through subcontractors or third-party labour suppliers, often lack social protections and face wage discrimination, exacerbating forced labour risks.

Helpful Resources
  • SILO, Guidelines on Decent Work and Socially Responsible Tourism: These guidelines provide practical information for developing and implementing policies and programmes to promote sustainable tourism and strengthen labour protection, including anti-forced labour measures.
  • The Know How Guide, Human Rights and the Hotel Industry by the International Tourism Partnership: This guide provides an overview of human rights (including forced labour) within hospitality, with guidance on developing a human rights policy, performing due diligence and addressing any adverse human rights impacts.
  • Human Rights in Tourism, An Implementation Guideline for Tour Operators by the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism e.V.: This guideline aims to assist tour operators in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and includes references to forced labour.
  • Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, Risks of Modern Slavery in Labour Sourcing Training: This online training module is designed by and for the hotel industry to improve awareness of modern slavery and human rights risks in hotel operations, focusing on the recruitment of staff or contractors.
  • Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, Guidelines for Checking Recruitment Agencies: This guidance helps hotels implement more responsible practices and reduce the risks of human trafficking in their supply chain. It focuses on performing the necessary checks and procedures when engaging private employment agencies to recruit workers.

Mining and the Extractive Industry

Forced labour takes place in parts of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) industry, which is largely informal and highly labour intensive. The mining of “conflict minerals” — tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold — and other minerals such as cobalt in particular has been linked to forced labour. The US Department of Labor’s 2022 report suggests that coal, granite, gravel, iron and diamonds are also linked to forced labour.

Forced labour is also present in oil and gas extraction and infrastructure development such as around the construction of pipelines and offshore installations.

Helpful Resources
  • OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: The OECD guidance identifies forced labour as a serious human rights abuse associated with the extraction, transport or trade of minerals. The guidance has Practical actions for companies to identify and address any forms of forced and compulsory labour in mineral supply chains and conduct related due diligence.
  • Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), Responsible Jewellery Council Standards Guidance: This guidance provides a suggested approach for RJC members to implement the mandatory requirements of the RJC Code of Practice (COP), including forced labour in mining operations.
  • Responsible Minerals Initiative, Material Change: A Study of Risks and Opportunities for Collective Action in the Materials Supply Chains of the Automotive and Electronics Industries: This report examines responsible sourcing of materials in the automotive and electronics industries, including association with forced labour. Responsible Minerals Initiative also has other helpful resources for mining companies on various steps of human rights due diligence.
  • International Organization for Migration (IOM), Remediation Guidelines for Victims of Exploitation in Extended Mineral Supply Chains: These guidelines provide concrete, operational guidance to downstream companies and their business partners to ensure victims of exploitation are adequately protected and assisted when harm has occurred.
  • International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM), Human Rights: A range of resources, including guidance, training materials and good practice case studies, on human rights in the mining and metals sector.
  • Ipieca, Company and Supply Chain Labour Rights Toolkit: Ipieca, the global oil and gas association, has developed a series of practical guidance and tools to help companies effectively identify, prevent and mitigate labour rights risks within their operations and supply chains.