Profits and poverty: The economics of forced labour

Profits and poverty: The economics of forced labour

This article covers ‘Daily Current Affairs’ and the topic details of ”Profits and poverty: The economics of forced labour”. This topic is relevant in the “Economy” section of the UPSC CSE exam.


Why in the News? 

A recent report titled ‘Profits and poverty: The economics of forced labour’, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), reveals that forced labour yields illicit profits totalling USD 36 billion annually.


About Forced Labour or Bonded Labour

  • Forced labour, also known as involuntary servitude or bonded labour, is a form of exploitation where individuals are coerced to work against their will, often under threat of violence or other forms of punishment. 
  • This egregious violation of human rights persists in various forms across the globe, affecting millions of people, including men, women, and children.
  • One of the most concerning aspects of forced labour is its prevalence in multiple industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, domestic work, and the sex trade. 
  • Victims of forced labour may be trafficked across borders or exploited within their own countries, trapped in situations of debt bondage, coercion, or outright slavery.


Important Findings of the Report


The Alarming Rise of Forced Labour Profits

  • Forced labour is a horrific global injustice, generating a staggering $36 billion in illegal profits annually. This represents a 37% increase since 2014, highlighting a growing problem with devastating human consequences.
  • The surge in profits is fueled by two factors: a significant increase in the number of victims being forced into labour and a rise in the level of exploitation each victim endures.


Geographic Distribution of Illegal Profits

The distribution of these illegal profits is uneven across regions. Europe and Central Asia have the highest total, with a shocking $84 billion, followed by Asia and the Pacific, the Americas, Africa, and the Arab States.


Profits per Victim

The estimated profits per victim are equally concerning, with criminals making nearly $10,000 per person. This number has risen significantly over the past decade. Perhaps most disturbing is that forced commercial sexual exploitation accounts for the vast majority (73%) of illegal profits despite representing only 27% of total forced labour victims.


Industries Where Forced labour Thrives


Beyond sexual exploitation, forced labour permeates various sectors of the global economy. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most impacted industries:

  • Industry: This includes mining, manufacturing, construction, and utilities. These sectors generate an estimated $35 billion in illegal profits through forced labour.
  • Services: This broad sector encompasses activities like wholesale trade, hospitality, and transportation. Forced labour in these services is estimated to generate $20.8 billion in illegal profits.
  • Agriculture: This sector includes forestry, farming, and fishing. The estimated illegal profits from forced labour in agriculture are around $5 billion.
  • Domestic Work: This involves work performed in private households and generates an estimated $2.6 billion in illegal profits.


A Growing Number of Victims

The number of people trapped in forced labour is also on the rise. There were an estimated 27.6 million people in forced labour on any given day in 2021, representing a worrying 2.7 million increase since 2016. This paints a grim picture of the expanding reach of forced labour and the urgent need for global action to eradicate it.


Recommendations given by the Report


  • Dismantling Forced labour: The report exposes the brutal reality of forced labour, highlighting its devastating impact on human dignity and its role in perpetuating poverty.  In response to this injustice, the report calls for a united international effort to eradicate forced labour.
  • Combating Illegal Profits: A central recommendation is to curb the flow of illegal profits. This requires significant investment in enforcement measures to hold perpetrators accountable and disrupt these financial lifelines.
  • Strengthening Legal Frameworks:  The report emphasises the need to bolster legal frameworks. This includes:
  1. Strengthening legislation to combat forced labour.
  2. Training law enforcement officials to identify and address forced labour cases.
  3. Expanding labour inspections to focus on high-risk sectors.
  4. Enhancing coordination between labour and criminal justice systems.
  5. Beyond Enforcement: A Holistic Approach
  • Promoting Worker Rights: The report identifies fair recruitment practices as crucial in preventing forced labour. Abuses during recruitment often pave the way for exploitation. It also emphasises the importance of freedom of association and collective bargaining. When workers have a voice and can organise, they are better equipped to resist forced labour practices.

Download Yojna daily current affairs eng med 22nd March 2024


Mains practise questions


Q1. What constitutional provisions and legal safeguards exist in India to protect individuals from forced labour and ensure their right to fair and humane working conditions?

Q2.To what extent do socio-economic factors, such as poverty, caste-based discrimination, and lack of access to education, contribute to the prevalence of forced labour in India, and how does this intersect with constitutional principles of equality and social justice?


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