The International Labour Organization (ILO) will hold a Tripartite Meeting of Experts at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from February 11 to 15, 2013 to begin developing standards to address gaps in international legal protections against forced labor. [ILO] The experts, chosen in consultation with States and employers’ and workers’ groups, are to report on the additional standards deemed necessary to complement existing ILO Conventions on forced labor, which include the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105). [ILO] The experts’ recommendations will be considered by the organization’s executive arm, the ILO Governing Body, in March 2013, with a view to possible consideration of new standards by its deliberative and policymaking body, the International Labour Conference, in June 2014. [ILO]
The ongoing Tripartite Meeting of Experts is a result of a 2012 recommendation by the International Labour Conference, which called on the ILO secretariat to:
conduct a detailed analysis, including through the possible convening of meetings of experts to identify gaps in existing coverage of ILO standards with a view to determining whether there is a need for standard setting to: (i) complement the ILO’s forced labour Conventions to address prevention and victim protection, including compensation; and (ii) address human trafficking for labour exploitation.
Existing International Standards
A number of widely-ratified international treaties currently address forced labor, which Article 2 of ILO Convention No. 29 defines as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” This can include situations of debt bondage, trafficking, non-payment of wages and deprivation of liberty in what some call “vestiges of slavery.” [UN News Centre] Convention No. 29 requires States parties to take affirmative steps to prevent forced labor, stop existing forced labor practices, and punish those who exact compulsory labor. Convention No. 105 further prevents States parties from imposing forced labor as a form of political coercion, as punishment for expressing certain views, or in a discriminatory manner. And, ILO Convention No. 182 is aimed at identifying and preventing child labor. Additionally, the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families requires States to ensure and respect migrant workers’ fundamental rights, including freedom from forced labor (Article 11).
Gaps in Protection
However, despite nearly universal ratification of the three ILO conventions, problems persist in the areas of prevention, protection, and trafficking, in particular. According to a 2012 ILO study, an estimated 21 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide. ILO, ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour (2012), p. 13. The 2012 study also found that more than a quarter of victims of forced labor are children, almost half are migrants, and about 55% are female. Id., at 14-16. By region, Asia contains the highest raw numbers of victims of forced labour, while central and southeastern Europe as well as the Commonwealth and Independent States have the highest levels of forced labor per capita. Id. at 15-16. The vast majority (90%) of forced labor was found within the private economy while only 10% was government-imposed. Id. at 13.
In preparation for this week’s meeting of experts, the ILO released a report on domestic law and practice with regard to prevention of forced labor, protection of victims, and human trafficking, which highlights the need for tougher measures to combat forced labor. See ILO, Tripartite Meeting of Experts on Forced Labour and Trafficking for Labour Exploitation: Report for discussion at the Tripartite Meeting of Experts concerning the possible adoption of an ILO instrument to supplement the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29) (2013), para. 133. Major areas of concern for the ILO include weak punishment which fails to deter forced labor, a lack of comprehensive measures to decrease demand in goods and services produced with forced labor, and a lack of visibility preventing victim identification. Id.
In order to rectify those existing gaps, the ILO proposes possible ratification of a new convention or of a protocol to Convention No. 29. Id. at para. 140. Such an instrument could provide for prevention measures, a framework for victim protection and compensation, a comprehensive approach to preventing and punishing trafficking, and increased cooperation between employers’ groups, workers’ groups, and NGOs in combatting trafficking. Id. at para. 142.
About the ILO
The ILO is a specialized United Nations agency with 185 Member States. Through a tripartite system made up of representatives from government, employers’ and workers’ groups, the ILO oversees the development and implementation of international labor standards. [ILO] For more information on the ILO and its conventions, see the International Labour Organization page on this site. Additional resources on the topic of forced labor, specifically, are available on the section of ILO website focused on Forced Labour.