Forced labor and exploitation

“Forced labor is any work or service which people are forced to do against their will, under threat of punishment. Almost all slavery practices contain some element of forced labor.”[1]

“Exploitation refers to social relations where an 'actor or character of actors uses others for their own end because of a fundamentally asymmetric power relationship between them.”[2]


Exploitation is very common around the world and particularly widespread in developing countries. Forced Labor is the most extreme form of human exploitation and also the most common element of modern slavery. Over 21 million people are now victims of forced labor, according to the ILO[3].The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced laborers in the world – 11.7 million (56 per cent) of the global total, followed by Africa at 3.7 million (18 per cent) and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 per cent)[4]. Forced Labor can be separated in six different categories:

  • Agriculture and fishing
  • Domestic work
  • Construction, mining, quarrying and brick kilns
  • Manufacturing, processing and packaging
  • Prostitution and sexual exploitation
  • Market trading and illegal activities

Forced labor often affects the most vulnerable and excluded groups, for example migrant workers, because since they often don’t speak the language, have few friends, have limited rights and depend on their employers. Women and girls are more likely to be exploited than boys and men, and children make up a quarter of the people in forced labor. Probably the biggest incident occurred in 2013 where over 1,000 people were killed when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. The factory supplied garments to numerous companies, including Wal-Mart and Primark. Workers still had been ordered into the building even though there were cracks in the walls and the lower floors had been evacuated.