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What Is Forced Labor?

OUR Rescue
Posted by OUR Rescue
Published on March 22, 2024
|
5 min read
A girl sits on steps holding a construction hat

Defining Forced Labor 

“Forced labor occurs when individuals are compelled against their will to provide work or service through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Specifically, forced labor refers to individuals 18 and older. Child labor, a subsection of forced labor, involves minors ages 17 and under. 

Types of Forced Labor 

Forced labor occurs in various forms, including debt bondage, deception or false promises about terms and types of work, exploitative practices such as forced overtime, forced begging, physical confinement in the work location, and the providing of sexual services. 

The United Nations provides a more extensive list here

Causes and Contributors – Factors Leading to Forced Labor

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the following risk factors make individuals more vulnerable to forced labor. 

  • Lack of social support systems like friends, family, and community 
  • Language barriers 
  • Physical or developmental disabilities 
  • Poverty and lack of basic needs like food, shelter, and safety 
  • The psychological effects of a recent or past trauma 
  • Unstable immigration status 

Industries Linked to Forced Labor 

As it relates to specific industries, those that employ informal workers and have little to no regulations are the most susceptible to situations of forced labor. (Anti-Slavery International

  • Agriculture and fishing 
  • Construction, mining, quarrying, and brick kilns 
  • Domestic work 
  • Illicit trades and illegal activities 
  • Manufacturing, processing, and packaging 
  • Market trading 
  • Services such as hospitality and transport 
  • Sex work, including sexual exploitation 

The Global Scale of Forced Labor 

  • In 2021, 27.6 million people were in situations of forced labor, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO
  • 159 goods from 78 countries and areas are produced by child labor or forced labor (U.S. Department of Labor
  • 52% of all forced labor can be found in upper-middle income or high-income countries (Walk Free
  • Forced labor is one aspect of human trafficking, a $150 billion industry (UNICEF
  • 12% of all those in forced labor are children (ILO) 
  • Migrant workers are three times more likely to be in forced labor than non-migrant workers (Walk Free) 

Impact on Victims 

As with any type of modern-day slavery, victims of forced labor endure profound emotional, physical, and psychological trauma. Even after being rescued, these can have long-term impacts on an individual. 

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) lists the following as common health effects: 

  • Various methods of forced labor expose victims of labor trafficking to physical abuse such as scars, headaches, hearing loss, cardiovascular/respiratory problems, and limb amputation. 
  • The psychological effects of torture are helplessness, shame and humiliation, shock, denial and disbelief, disorientation and confusion, and anxiety disorders including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, panic attacks, and depression. 
  • Many victims also develop Traumatic Bonding or “Stockholm Syndrome,” which is characterized by cognitive distortions where reciprocal positive feelings develop between captors and their hostages. This bond is a type of human survival instinct and helps the victim cope with captivity. 
  • Child victims of labor trafficking are often malnourished to the extent that they may never reach their full height. They may have poorly formed or rotting teeth; and later, they may experience reproductive problems. 

Survivors often need individualized aftercare services like the ones provided by OUR Rescue. This includes medical care, trauma-informed therapy, education and job training, and legal advocacy to name a few. 

United States Government Support 

For victims of forced labor in the U.S., the federal government provides support to both citizens and non-citizens. 

 “When victims of trafficking are identified, the U.S. government can help them stabilize their immigration status and obtain support and assistance in rebuilding their lives in the United States through various programs. By certifying victims of trafficking, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enables trafficking victims who are non-U.S. citizens to receive federally funded benefits and services to the same extent as a refugee. Victims of trafficking who are U.S. citizens do not need to be certified to receive benefits. As U.S. citizens, they may already be eligible for many benefits.” (HHS) 

Spotting Forced Labor – Identifying Victims and Red Flags

Identifying forced labor victims is challenging, but it can be done. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, look for the following indicators: 

  • Abusive working and living conditions 
  • Intimidation and threats 
  • Isolation 
  • Restriction of movement 
  • Retention of identity documents 
  • Withholding of wages 

If you see something, say something. Potential cases of forced labor can be reported to local authorities or the National Human Trafficking Hotline

About Operation Underground Railroad 

We lead the fight against child sexual exploitation and human trafficking worldwide. 

Our work spans the globe as we assist law enforcement in rescue efforts and help provide aftercare to all those affected. While we prioritize children, we work to empower the liberation of anyone suffering at the hands of those looking to sexually exploit. We offer vital resources to authorities around the world and work tirelessly to raise awareness and meet survivors on their healing journey. Our resolve never falters, and we will boldly persevere until those in need are safe. 

Forced Labor FAQs 

What is the difference between forced labor and human trafficking? 

Forced labor, a form of modern-day slavery, is one aspect of human trafficking. The two are similar but distinct from one another. Human trafficking can occur without forced labor taking place, but all cases of forced labor are human trafficking crimes. 

To learn more about the different types of human trafficking, read “Human Trafficking Statistics and Facts in 2024.” 

What are the different forms of forced labor? 

Debt bondage, deception or false promises about terms and types of work, exploitative practices such as forced overtime, forced begging, physical confinement in the work location, and the providing of sexual services. 

The United Nations provides a more extensive list here

How can I recognize signs of forced labor? 

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, look for the following indicators: 

  • Abusive working and living conditions 
  • Intimidation and threats 
  • Isolation 
  • Restriction of movement 
  • Retention of identity documents 
  • Withholding of wages 

What industries are most commonly linked to forced labor? 

Industries that employ informal workers and have little to no regulations are the most susceptible to situations of forced labor. (Anti-Slavery International

Published on March 22, 2024