Nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labor, report says

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About 3 of every 1,000 people on the globe are victims of forced labor, according to a new report from the International Labor Organization. That adds up to nearly 21 million people worldwide, a dramatically higher number than the group estimated seven years ago.

Forced labor includes any situation in which someone is forced to work against their will. Because it is a hidden practice, it is difficult to calculate exactly how many people are victimized.

The new number is roughly 70% higher than the last estimate from the international group, in 2005. That doesn’t mean that forced labor has increased; instead the ILO said it had a new, more sophisticated way to estimate the scale of the problem, extrapolating its numbers from reported incidents and data.

The new global study also sheds more light on how forced labor happens around the world. It found that most victims of forced labor are exploited by private companies or people, while a 10th of forced laborers are abused by governments or rebels.


Forced labor occurs most commonly in central and southeastern Europe and Africa, though the total number of people forced to work in Asia is higher than in any other region, the report says.

And though millions of people are coerced into prostitution or other sexual exploitation, more than three times as many people are forced to work in other industries, such as agriculture or construction.

“This really reinforces the notion that most forced labor happens in the making of products we consume every day,” said David Batstone, president of the anti-slavery group Not For Sale. And with the new, higher number, “it’s more difficult for anyone to say it’s just a minor problem.”


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles