Amidst the COVID-19 global crisis, ICAT calls for coordinated action to address trafficking in persons for forced labour

Event Date: 
Friday, July 10, 2020
Geneva, Vienna

Amidst the COVID-19 global crisis, ICAT calls for coordinated action to address trafficking in persons for forced labour

Geneva, Vienna, 10 July 2020 - Over 80 percent of the global workforce has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures taken to contain it, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The impact is particularly harsh for unprotected workers and the most vulnerable groups in the informal economy, including undocumented migrants and refugees, who may lack access to healthcare and are adversely affected by rising unemployment.

At the same time, some sectors experience increased demand for workers, including the medical care sector, glove and masks manufacturing, food sector, delivery services and transportation sector.

Against this backdrop, certain categories of individuals, including children may be at increased risk of falling prey to human traffickers, who exploit them through forced labour as they look for ways of generating new income and use the global crisis to further restrict the freedom of victims.  

The UN lead’s inter-agency coordination mechanism on trafficking in persons, the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT), has released a new Issue Brief on Trafficking in Persons for the Purpose of Forced Labour. The Brief seeks to increase awareness of the issue and provide a series of hands-on recommendations for enhanced policy action, identification and protection of victims, and accountability for perpetrators.

“We cannot turn a blind eye on the millions of women, men and children trafficked for forced labour”, noted Ms Vera Paquete-Perdigão, Director of the Governance and Tripartism Department at the International Labour Organization (ILO), “It’s all the more urgent as the covid-19 crisis has made the situation of many vulnerable peoples even more fragile”.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the precarious conditions of trafficked victims and allowing for the creation of new avenues for traffickers to recruit and exploit vulnerable people, trafficking for forced labour is far from being a new phenomenon.

Victims are trafficked for forced labour within a country or across a border in factories, farms and private households to work in, among others, the agriculture, mining, brick-making, fish-processing, gem-cutting, domestic work and carpet-weaving sectors.

ICAT advocates for a comprehensive response to trafficking for forced labour in four pillars - prevention, protection and remedies, and criminal justice responses — underpinned by strengthened international cooperation and social dialogue.

Success in eradicating trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, particularly in times of crisis, is dependent on the wide range of factors — sociocultural, economic, legal and political — that push people into forced labour. Remedial measures will never be sufficient if the flow of people into forced labour is not prevented.

It also requires measures to ensure that the rights of workers, including migrant and refugee workers, are protected, respected and fulfilled, regardless of their migration status. Safe, regular and orderly migration pathways and eliminating gender specific discrimination in laws and policies will reduce the vulnerability of women, men, girls and boys to trafficking.

With an estimated profit of at least $100 billion each year, halting forced labour requires public and private action and partnership in high-risk countries and economic sectors and in the products, services or operations to which they may be directly linked through their supply chains.

ICAT’s recommendations for Member States and practitioners include the adoption of prevention measures, stemming from awareness-raising, fair recruitment and application of labour laws and standards; protection measures, including ensuring timely identification, immediate assistance and access to justice and remedies for people being trafficked; targeted criminal justice responses, such as stronger action against trafficking networks; as well as tackling the demand for trafficking in persons, including through the standard application of financial investigations as well as strengthening the administration of labour justice.


Click here to download the ICAT Issue brief on forced labour [AVAILABLE ALSO IN SPANISH]


Find out more about ICAT’s Call to Action and list of resources to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

With a view to continuing to assess the impact and challenges that COVID-19 poses on anti-trafficking responses worldwide, continue to share your stories on how the pandemic is affecting victims of trafficking in persons, including those subjected to forced labour and labour exploitation, by tagging ICAT on Twitter @ICAT_News.