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A guide to ILO Convention
No. 169

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Banner picture by:
Janice Collins
and
True Blue Aboriginal Arts


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Forced labour

Those who are forced to work are often indigenous peoples
Forced labour occurs when people are subjected to psychological or physical coercion in order to perform some work, which they would otherwise not have freely chosen. Forced labour includes situations such as slavery, practises similar to slavery, debt bondage, or serfdom. Some people are more at risk of becoming victims of forced labour, because they are more vulnerable or poorer than others, and therefore are more easily exploited.

In Latin America, today as centuries ago, the main victims of forced labour are indigenous peoples. In South Asia, bonded labour remains particularly severe among the Dalits and Adivasis. Women and girls from the hill tribes of the Mekong region of South-East Asia are known to be particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation. In Central Africa, forced labour appear to be a particular problem for the Baka, Batwa and other so-called “pygmy” peoples.

Conventions combating forced labour
The ILO has two Conventions dealing with forced labour. One is ILO’s Forced Labour Convention No. 29 from 1930, which obliges ILO member states to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period. When defining forced labour, Convention No. 29 does mention certain acceptable exceptions, including for example military service, work forming part of normal civic obligations or work exacted as a consequence of a conviction provided this is performed under the supervision and control of a public authority.

In 1957, Convention No. 29 was followed up by the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, No 105. This Convention outlines specific purposes for which forced labour can never be imposed. Thus, forced labour can never be used for economic development or as means of political education, discrimination, labour discipline, or punishment for having participated in strikes.

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