Criminal enterprises reap billions of dollars in forced labour, say UN

Criminal enterprises reap billions of dollars in forced labour, say UN
FILE – Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), addresses the media during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Illegal profits from forced labor worldwide have risen to the “obscene” amount of $236 billion per year, the U.N. labor agency reported Tuesday, March 19, 2024, with sexual exploitation to blame for three-fourths of the take from a business that deprives migrants of money they can send home, swipes jobs from legal workers, and allows the criminals behind it to dodge taxe (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of International Labor Organization [Photo: Courtesy]

The United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) lamented the rising trend of global extortion, where criminals make $236 billion in illegal profits a year from forced labour.

In a statement seen by The City Review on Tuesday, Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of the International Labour Organisation, said most people in forced labour are susceptible to various forms of harassment.

“This is the obscene level of annual profits generated from forced labour in the world today, effectively stolen from the pockets of workers by those who coerce them to work, as well as money taken from remittances of migrants and lost tax revenue for governments,” Houngbo said.

He added, “People in forced labour are subject to multiple forms of coercion, the deliberate and systematic withholding of wages being amongst the most common,” he said.   

“Forced labour perpetuates cycles of poverty and exploitation and strikes at the heart of human dignity.”

The U.N labour agency said that sexual exploitation is also to blame for three-fourths of the take from a business that deprives migrants of money they can send home, swipes jobs from legal workers, and allows the criminals behind it to dodge taxes.

The ILO stated that the tally for 2021, mostly covered in recent years in painstaking international study, marked an increase of 37 per cent or $64 billion, compared with its last estimate published a decade ago.

“That is a result of both more people being exploited and more cash generated from each victim,” the statement read in part.

“Forced labour can encourage corruption, strengthen criminal networks and incentivize further exploitation,” he stressed.

The labour agency reported that in 2021, an estimated 27.6 million people were in forced labour, a 10 per cent rise from five years ago. It stressed that the Asia-Pacific region was home to more than half of those, while Africa, the Americas, and Europe-Central Asia each represented about 13 per cent to 14 per cent.

“Some 85 percent of the people affected were working in “privately imposed forced labour, which can include slavery, serfdom, bonded labour, and activities like forms of begging where cash taken in goes to the benefit of someone else,” it stated.

ILO also noted that over one-fourth of the victims worldwide were subject to sexual exploitation, which accounted for nearly $173 billion in profits, or nearly three-quarters of the global total, a sign of the higher margins generated from selling sex.

According to the statement, 6.3 million people faced situations of forced commercial sexual exploitation on any given day three years ago, and nearly four in five of those victims were girls or women. At the same time, children accounted for more than a quarter of the total cases.

“Forced labour in industry trailed in a distant second, at $35 billion, followed by services at nearly $21 billion, agriculture at $5 billion and domestic work at $2.6 billion,” it said.

The Labor Organization defines forced labour as work that is imposed against the will of the employee and exacted under penalty or the threat of one. It can happen at any phase of employment, especially during recruitment, in living conditions by forcing people to stay in a job when they want to leave it.

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