The pandemic, armed conflict and climate change have exacerbated conditions, keeping people trapped in forced labor or marriage.
The number of people trapped in forced labor or forced marriage and other crises has grown by a fifth in recent years to about 50 million a day, the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) said on Monday.
The study by the UN agencies for labor and migration together with the Walk Free Foundation found that late last year more than half of them were forced to work against their will and the rest were forced into marriage, the ILO said.
That means nearly one in 150 people around the world is involved in modern forms of slavery, the report said.
Both fell under his definition of modern slavery as they were people who “due to threats, violence, deception, abuse of power, or other forms of coercion, cannot refuse or leave,” she added.
The UN had set a goal of eradicating all forms of modern slavery by 2030, but the number of people involved in forced labor or forced marriage increased by 10 million between 2016 and 2021, according to a new report.
The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has worsened conditions and left many workers in debt, as well as armed conflict and climate change that are leaving people in extreme poverty and forcing more to migrate, the agency said.
“I think by and large we’ve just relaxed our efforts. We have averted our eyes from the issue of forced labour,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder told Reuters, calling for improvements in recruitment procedures and labor inspections.
He said trade measures such as a ban on products and imports made using forced labor, which are currently under scrutiny by the European Union, could also help.
Modern slavery is present in virtually every country, with more than half of forced labor cases and a quarter of forced marriages occurring in middle- and high-income countries.
“It would be a mistake to think that forced labor is only a problem for poor countries,” Ryder told AFP.
Migrant workers are more than three times as likely to be affected as locals, the ILO said.
The ILO also said that women and children are by far the most vulnerable. One in five people in forced labor are children, more than half of whom are engaged in commercial sexual exploitation, the report says.
But the report also said that 14 percent of forced laborers were doing jobs assigned to them by state authorities and expressed concern about the abuse of forced laborers in prisons in many countries, including the United States.
It also pointed to the serious concerns expressed by the UN legal office about “credible reports of forced labor in exceptionally harsh conditions” in North Korea.
And it highlighted the situation in China, citing concerns over allegations of forced labor in parts of the country.
It referred to a report released by the UN legal office on August 31 that said “serious human rights abuses” had been committed in China and that the detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang could constitute a crime against humanity.
China has vigorously denied the allegations and last month ratified two conventions against forced labor.
That means “they’re going to start reporting on the situation of the Uyghurs, and that will give us new opportunities to access and dig deeper into the situation in that regard,” Ryder told AFP.
He acknowledged that discussing labor rights in Xinjiang is “not an easy conversation…but obviously a very important one.”