Photo by Hasin Hayder on Unsplash

Forced labour is one of the practices which contributes the most to the phenomenon of modern slavery. It stands unique from most other practices in two key areas, firstly it has one of the oldest legal definitions, first enshrined in international law in 1930. Secondly, it is a practice which can occur both legally and illegally. The International Labour Organisation‘s (ILO) Forced Labour Convention (1930) was the first comprehensive and universally agreed upon piece of international law to define the act of forced labour. The act lays the practice out as:

“all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily”

Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)

International Labour Organisation

The convention allows for specific acts of forced labour to not be considered illegal under international law. All of these specific practices fall under the category of ‘state-sanctioned forced labour’. The largest example of the widespread use of state-sanctioned forced labour is penal labour, which broadly encompasses prisoners being subject to many forms of unfree labour. There are growing movements for this type of forced labour to also be made illegal under international law.

Beyond this, all other forms of forced labour are considered illegal. The ILO refers to these practices as the main forms of forced labour:

  • Slavery
  • Debt Bondage
  • Trafficking in Persons
  • Prison Labour
  • Compulsory Labour
  • Military Work
  • Abuse of Homeworkers

Worthy of note is that the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China are two of only 9 nations which have not ratified the convention.

The ILO has the below video to help portray how most victims find themselves subject to forced labour.