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Putting a Price on the Cost of Forced Labor

A new U.N. report estimates that millions of workers are denied more than $20 billion a year in wages. And that does not even include the sex industry. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A new report estimates the cost of forced labor. Millions of workers worldwide are denied more than twenty billion dollars a year in wages. And that does not even include people forced to work in the sex industry.

The report is by the International Labor Organization. The United Nations agency gives two main reasons for what it calls "the cost of coercion."

First, people in forced labor situations receive wages that are lower, sometimes far lower, than the market rate. Long hours of overtime work may go unpaid or underpaid. Also, victims may be overcharged for their housing, food and other items.

The second major cost mainly involves human trafficking. It includes the money that workers pay to be taken to another country.

Four years ago, the labor agency estimated that more than twelve million people were in some form of forced labor. About two and a half million cases were the result of trafficking.

The earlier report estimated profits from trafficking alone at more than thirty billion dollars a year. It said criminals earned all but four billion of that from the sex trade.

Experts say Asia has three-fourths of all forced laborers. A million are in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the problem affects almost all countries. Around fifty-six percent of people in forced labor are women and girls. Forty to fifty percent are under the age of eighteen.

Most countries have laws that make forced labor a serious crime. Yet the new report says in Africa, for example, it has generally received limited attention. Sometimes there is a strong focus on slavery but weak punishments, says I.L.O. official Roger Plant. He says child labor is an especially serious problem in West African countries.

Around the world, industries such as agriculture and the building trades are commonly considered at risk of forced labor. They have lots of temporary work and difficult conditions. But the report says the risk extends to all kinds of industries with long supply chains for the goods used in their products. Huge companies might not use forced labor, but they might work with smaller ones that do.

Why would people take a chance on getting involved with forced labor? The International Labor Organization points to increases in the unemployed, the working poor and people whose jobs are likely to be cut. In such times of economic crisis, it says, people take more risks.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson, with Lisa Schlein in Geneva. I'm Steve Ember.