The Measure of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” — Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour
“I had not then learned the measure of “man’s inhumanity to man,” nor to what limitless extent of wickedness he will go for the love of gain.”
― Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave (1853)
Those words were written by Solomon Northup in “Twe lve Years a Slave” more than 150 years ago, but they ring as true today as they did then.*
More than a century after being banned in the developed world, and decades after being outlawed in the newly emerging developing world, modern forms of slavery—forced labour, human trafficking, forced sexual exploitation—still exist, and unfortunately risk growing in extent and profitability in the world today.
This statements are part of the chapter “Conclusions” of the ILO http://www.ilo.org Report Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour. http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/publications/WCMS_243391/lang—en/index.htm here reproduced.
As this ILO report has shown, the profits from forced labour, as generated on the backs of largely working poor who are desperately searching for a decent job and a better life are more than three times the ILO’s previous estimates.
Put into perspective, the 21 million victims in forced labour and the more than US$150 billion in illegal profits generated by their work exceeds the population and GDP of many countries or territories around the world.
The Vast Nation of Invisible Men, Women and Children
Yet this vast nation of men, women and children, along with its resources, remains virtually invisible, hidden behind a wall of coercion, threats and economic exploitation.
Since its first Global Report on Forced Labour was issued in 2001, the ILO’s Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour has led the way in marshalling concrete global action.
The ILO’s two international standards on forced labour have been nearly universally adopted, and today form the basis of binding international law that has been embraced by most ILO member States.
This new report builds on the 2012 Global Estimate, and new methodologies and surveys, to take the understanding of forced labour, its extent and its profits to a new level.
The report indicates that while unscrupulous employers and criminals reap huge profits from the illegal exaction of forced labour, the losses incurred by the victims are also enormously significant.
People in forced labour are often caught in a vicious cycle that condemns them to endless poverty. They may suffer personal trauma that will require years to overcome as they try to rebuild their lives.
At the same time, law-abiding businesses and employers are disadvantaged by forced labour as it creates an environment of unfair competition and risks tarnishing the reputation of entire industries and sectors.
And governments and societies are also harmed because the profits generated by forced labour bypass national tax collection systems, and the costs involved in dealing with forced labour cases are significant.
The impact of poverty and income shocks is central to the understanding of forced labour. Individuals living in poverty are more likely to be in forced labour and to borrow money, leading to an increase in vulnerability to forced labour or a family member being held in debt bondage.
In addition, income shocks that push households further into poverty, and often below the food poverty line, also increase the likelihood of exposure to forced labour.
These households are more likely to need emergency funds, eventually relying on third parties to support their families. This heavy dependence on other individuals can lead to manipulation, coercion, exploitation and deception, especially if a creditor is a recruiter or trafficker.
The choice of a specific occupation also has an impact on whether the person ends up in forced labour. Forced labour is more common in unskilled occupations in agriculture, fishing, domestic work, manufacturing and other work requiring low levels of education and skills. Informal sector workers are more vulnerable to forced labour than workers who possess enforceable employment contracts.
Education and literacy are very important factors, both in terms of vulnerability to, and in the elimination of, forced labour. Educated individuals are less likely to be in basic forms of manual labour, and are more likely to know their rights.
Literate individuals can read contracts and recognize situations that could lead to exploitation and coercion. In addition, households headed by educated persons are more likely to be better off and thus less likely to borrow, especially in the event of unforeseen income shocks.
Gender is another important factor that determines the likelihood of being in forced labour, especially in relation to specific economic activities.
According to the ILO’s Global Estimate, about 55 per cent of all victims are women and girls. In forced sexual exploitation and in domestic work, the vast majority of victims are women and girls.
In other economic activities, however, men and boys tend to be disproportionally represented. According to survey data discussed in this chapter, men and boys are slightly more at risk of falling victim to forced labour than women and girls.
This can be explained by the selection of surveys, and a particular focus on bonded labour or debt bondage.
Previous ILO studies have shown that it is usually the male head of the household that borrows from moneylenders and hence pledges his labour as collateral. But this often implies that the entire family is considered to be bonded.
Some country surveys show that male migrants were more often in forced labour than women, depending very much on the choice of destination country. Other country surveys show that single female headed households were more at risk of forced labour than male headed households.
Thus, while, gender is an important factor determining the risk of forced labour, it is often contextual and there are great
variances across countries, sectors and forms of forced labour.
Finally, migration is an important risk factor. Surveys that focused on migrant workers in Eastern Europe showed a clear correlation between the need to borrow money for the payment of recruitment fees and the risk of ending up in forced labour.
The level of education also played a role, as educated migrants were less likely to be in forced labour.
Finally, the choice of destination country and the legal status of migrant workers in that country played a significant role in determining the likelihood of being in forced labour.
An irregular situation entails a higher risk to be exposed to forced labour than regular migration and employment status.
What needs to be done? There is a critical need to expand the current knowledge base on forced labour through standardized data collection methods across countries.
Such standardization and regular data collection would enable the ILO and other international organizations to generate more reliable global figures, measure trends and better understand risk factors.
Better data and research will also contribute to the design of more effective programmes and policies. Following the resolution of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians adopted in September 2013, the ILO will now establish a working group of statisticians, economists and other experts to further advance data collection and research in this area.
However, if the lives of the 21 million men, women and children in forced labour are to be significantly changed, concrete and immediate action is needed.
The fact that, with limited deterrence, huge profits can be made from millions of poor and uneducated workers provides a compelling argument for stronger government intervention and social and economic development.
Despite enhanced enforcement action against forced labour and human trafficking in recent years, it remains a low risk and high gain enterprise.
This has to change.
Measures are needed to strengthen laws and policies and reinforce inspection in sectors
where the risk of forced labour is high. This should be linked to an early identification
system of victims and their effective protection.
Labour rights violations should be swiftly punished and criminal sanctions should be imposed on those who prey on particularly vulnerable workers.
Workers need to be empowered by supporting their organization and access to remedies.
There is also a need to strengthen preventive measures and address specific risk factors.
Social protection can prevent household vulnerability to sudden income shocks and debt bondage. Access to education and skills training can enhance the bargaining power of workers and prevent children in particular from becoming victims of forced labour.
Measures to promote social inclusion and address discrimination against women and girls can also go a long way towards preventing forced labour.
Good migration governance can enhance the positive development impact of migration and prevent the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers.
The need to address the socio-economic root causes of this hugely profitable illegal practice is urgent. Comprehensive measures are required that involve governments, workers, employers and other stakeholders working together to end forced labour.
The continued existence of forced labour is bad for its victims, for business and development.
It is a practice that has no place in modern society and should be eradicated as a matter of priority.
The report highlights how forced labour – which in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year, about three times more than previously estimated – thrives in the incubator of poverty and vulnerability, low levels of education and literacy, migration and other factors, according to ILO.
The evidence presented illustrates the need for stronger measures of prevention and protection, as well as for enhanced law enforcement, as the basic responses to forced labour, ILO adds.
“At the same time, the report offers new knowledge of the determinants of forced labour, including a range of figures that break down profits by area of forced labour and by region. This can help us develop policies and programmes not only to stop forced labour where it exists, but to prevent it before it occurs.”