The International Labour Organization (ILO) has published its latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (see press release) report which estimates that an alarming rise in modern slavery has taken place worldwide within the last five years. According to the report, (co-published by Walk Free and the International Organisation for Migration), approximately 50 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, an increase of 6.6 million since 2016.

The figures are worryingly high and translate to almost one out of every 150 people in our world. Of the figures, approximately 28 million people are subject to forced labour and 22 million are subject to forced marriage.

Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and sadly, “almost one in eight of all those in forced labour are children”. Out of the figures, 23% of those subject to forced labour are victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation, (of which 4/5 are women or girls), and more than 1.8 million children are engaged in commercial sexual exploitation, possibly every day.

In relation to forced marriage, approximately 85% is due to familial pressures and is often found with links to patriarchal practices and attitudes. It can involve children aged 16 and younger and is significantly higher in Arab States.

The ILO’s latest report not only highlights the large-scale injustices that prevail in our modern day society, but also proposes recommendations for governments, trade unions, employers’ organisations, civil society and ordinary people to act on in order to eradicate modern slavery. 

Examples of actions to reduce forced labour include: (a) ensuring protection for people freed from forced labour, (b) providing workers with basic income security so they can say no to jobs, and (c) promoting fair and ethical recruitment. 

Steps that can be taken to reduce forced marriage include: (a) amending legislation to create more gender equality, (b) raising the legal age of marriage to 18, and (c) addressing underlying socio-cultural norms and structures.

We must act urgently to gather will, commitment and resources to provide equality of human rights for all. Everyone can and must do more.