23 May 2014

Africa: U.N. Experts Call On Governments to Adopt Legally Binding Treaty Against Forced Labour

Independent United Nations human rights experts dealing with the issues of slavery, migrants and trafficking today called on governments to adopt a legally binding international protocol to respond to the scourge of forced labour.

Forced labour generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year, which is about three times more than previously estimated, according to new figures released this week by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) in its report 'Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour.'

"A legally binding protocol is essential to fight forced labour and represents a crucial opportunity for more coherent international action to advance the eradication of slavery-like practices around the world," the experts stressed in a news release.

"Setting adequate international standards will enable to hold accountable all those who fail to exercise due diligence to prevent exploitation of the most vulnerable in society."

The ILO report noted that two-thirds of the $150 billion generated by forced labour - or $99 billion - came from commercial sexual exploitation, while another $51 billion resulted from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities.

The human rights experts called on ILO members to take appropriate action at the upcoming International Labour Conference, set to begin on 28 May, and encouraged them to vote for a legally binding protocol supported by a guiding recommendation to States.

"There are over 20 million people today who are victims of forced labour. These are women, men and children who are economically and sexually exploited," said the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian. "Slavery like practices like forced labour continues to exist today because they are profitable."

"Many of the victims of forced labour are migrants who leave their country of origin due to pull-factors that are largely in response to unrecognized needs in the labour markets in countries of destination," noted Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants François Crepeau.

The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Joy Ezeilo, added that ILO's support for a legally binding protocol would be a "stepping stone" in addressing the demand and supply which fuels the grave human rights violations inflicted on those trafficked for forced labour across different sectors of the economy.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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