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Much as Forced Labour contributes significantly to the prominence of modern slavery, as does Debt Bondage contribute significantly to enabling forced labour and large scale economic exploitation. Debt bondage is one of the most common traps through which exploitative employers or intermediaries chain their victims to their work. As such, once again the International Labour Organisation (ILO) acts as the best organisation from which to take a comprehensive and universally agreed-upon definition of debt bondage from: 

“Debt bondage exists when labourers (sometimes with their families) are forced to work for an employer in order to pay off their own debts or those they have inherited. The victims of debt bondage, if they try to leave their employment, are usually caught and returned by force. Providing wages or other compensation to a worker does not necessarily indicate that the labour is not forced or compulsory.”

International Labour Organisation

The ILO’s explanatory video on forced labour (included below) illustrates the phenomenon in a simple and impacting way. Debt bondage essentially encompasses unassuming victims in desperate conditions agreeing to contracts of employment without understanding trap clauses which will prevent them from ever receiving any income for their work. Although their contracts contain an ‘income’, they’re also provided with ‘shelter’, food, water and processing ‘services’ which their employers or employment intermediary then deduct fees for, from the intended income. Often this can not only consume all of the potential income, leaving the exploited worker with no money at all but also result in acquiring more debt. 

Debt bondage is a huge contributing factor to the difficulties organisations can face in attempting to identify modern slavery or forced labour in their supply chains. On paper, the workers in these environments are receiving an income, which several tiers up a supply chain can negate any concern of malpractice. It is therefore also a huge reason to support in-depth, multi-tier audits of multinational supply chains as doing so increases the possibility of identifying such practices where they may otherwise be missed.