Forced Labor

Forced Labor


What is forced labor? 

Forced labor is when a person is engaged in exploitative labor under threat, coercion, deceit, or force. It can be state-imposed and includes commercial sexual exploitation.

25 million

people are victims of forced labor.

We believe this number is increasing significantly due to circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

Forced labor exists in every country. An estimated 62% of all modern slavery victims are located in Asia and the Pacific, 23% in Africa, 9% in Europe and Central Asia, and 5% in the Americas.  

While people can be trafficked in their country of residence, recent evidence suggests migrants are at higher risk of trafficking, and women and girls even more so. Thus, the fight against modern slavery is highly integrated into other global development issues including safe migration and women and girls’ empowerment.

There are additional structural drivers of modern slavery. Oftentimes, victims of forced labor lack other viable job opportunities, are from impoverished regions or villages, are from minority groups, or are unaware of the risks associated with certain types of work or business practices. These drivers of exploitation are why a systems approach to ending modern slavery is needed. 

See how we are working across sectors, adopting a systems approach to end forced labor globally.

Why is forced labor so hard to end?

Modern slavery is perpetuated by international, national, and local economic systems that leave some individuals and communities vulnerable to exploitation. It is driven by a demand for cheap goods and services, and supported by an enabling environment that allows traffickers to operate with impunity.

To end modern slavery, all three of these factors must be addressed in any given system.

Reducing Vulnerability


Reducing the vulnerability of individuals is multi-dimensional– raising awareness of trafficking risks among vulnerable populations, providing alternative livelihood opportunities, and providing survivors with the care and support they need to build new lives. Addressing such vulnerability ties modern slavery to other development issues like poverty reduction, gender equality, education access, and social inclusion.

Shifting Demand


Demand for cheap labor, inexpensive products, and sexual exploitation is also a driver of slavery. To end forced labor, unethical and exploitative business practices must be shown to be uncompetitive; concrete alternatives must be identified; and ethical business models need to be implemented.

Reforming Environment


Enabling environments of modern slavery allow traffickers to operate with impunity. They represent inadequate judicial or law enforcement capacities, corruption, and corporate and cultural norms that ignore the most vulnerable. To transform these systems, we need to empower governments and the private sector with the tools and knowledge to effectively prosecute cases and take action on slavery within supply chains.

How do I know if something I own was made with forced labor?

Unfortunately, in most cases, there is no way to be certain. Many industries do not yet have the tools to accurately and effectively detect forced labor in the deeper levels of their supply chains. GFEMS, with its partners, is using technology to help uncover forced labor so that businesses and consumers can take action to end modern slavery.

There are resources and certifications available that provide some indication of ethical business practices, such as Fair Trade, GoodWeave, or GoodOnYou. While these labels do not guarantee products are made without forced labor, they can be helpful in guiding your purchasing habits.

How we combat forced labor

GFEMS works across six sectors to combat forced labor globally. Learn more about our activities and strategy to end forced labor and modern slavery: