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Modern slavery generates $150 billion in profits globally per year - ILO

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 07:44 GMT

Sexual exploitation is six times more profitable than all other forms of forced labour

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of forced labourers around the world are generating an estimated $150 billion a year in profits for those who exploit them, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said on Tuesday.

Two thirds, 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, according to the ILO report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour.

“Profits per victim are highest in forced sexual exploitation, which can be explained by the demand for such services and the prices that clients are willing to pay, and by the low capital investments and low operating costs associated with this activity,” the report said. 

“With a global average profit of $21,800 per year per victim, this sector is six times more profitable than all other forms of forced labour, and five times more profitable than forced labour exploitation outside domestic work.”

The total figure is more than three times higher than the ILO's previous estimate in 2005 of $44 billion.

While slavery and the slave trade are banned by international law, the report indicates that 21 million people worldwide are in forced labour - including commercial sexual exploitation, work under slavery-like conditions and other involuntary labor resulting from force, fraud or deception. Migrant workers are the most vulnerable.

A quarter of the total are under 18 years old and more than half are women and girls, primarily in commercial sexual exploitation and domestic work. Men and boys were primarily in forced economic exploitation in agriculture, construction, and mining.

The ILO estimated that private households save $8 billion annually by not paying or underpaying domestic workers held in forced labour.

Some 14.2 million are forced to work in fields like agriculture, construction, mining and domestic care, while 4.5 million are sexually exploited.

An additional 2.2 million are engaged in state-imposed forms of forced labour, in prisons, for example, or in work imposed by military or paramilitary forces, according to the report.

“Forced labour is bad for business and development and especially for its victims,"  ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement. "Our new report adds new urgency to our efforts to eradicate this fundamentally evil, but hugely profitable practice as soon as possible.”

Some 56 percent of forced labourers are in the Asia-Pacific region and 18 percent are in Africa. Smaller numbers are in Latin America and the Caribbean (9 percent), developed economies including the European Union (7 percent), central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (7 percent) and the Middle East (3 percent).

The ILO calculated the new profit estimate using data from its 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour, which covered the period from 2002 to 2011. It excluded 2.2 million people engaged in state-imposed forced labour, due to a lack of reliable information and “theoretical difficulties” in calculating profits generated by, for example, child soldiers, the report said.

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