Forced labor still ‘hugely profitable,’ says UN report

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  May 20, 2014 at 5:08 PM EDT
Young girl works as a child weaver in  the district of Lahore. Photo by International Labour Organization, courtesy of Flickr.

A young girl works as a child weaver in the district of Lahore. Photo by International Labour Organization, courtesy of Flickr.

More than 60 years after the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights made slavery a worldwide crime, forced labor is a $150 billion industry, according to a new UN report published Tuesday.

UN’s International Labour Organization says 21 million people around the world are ensnared in some form of involuntary employment, including slavery, sexual trafficking and coerced labor.

Two-thirds of this illegal profiteering — or $99 billion — comes from the sex trade, which includes prostitution and pornography. The remaining share comes from “forced economic exploitation,” largely in the fields of agriculture, mining and construction, and from unpaid or underpaid domestic work.

Women and girls make up more than half of this workforce, mainly as sex or domestic workers.

The report “provides solid evidence for a correlation between forced labour and poverty,” said ILO’s Director-General Guy Ryder in a statement.

According to Ryder, government and business must partner together to strengthen anti-poverty and literacy measures, monitor and regulate supply chains and enforce trade and immigration policies that do not lend themselves to exploitation.

Forced labor “has no place in modern society. And it’s time that we act together, to eradicate this hugely profitable, but fundamentally evil source of shame once and for all.”