With the advancing wave of mandatory human rights laws (see our previous Blog Posts here and here) and the increasing focus from investors and other stakeholders on human rights (see our previous Blog Post), it is ever more incumbent on companies to take demonstrable steps to identify, assess and mitigate actual or potential human rights harms.  This includes taking steps to ensure that no forced labor takes place within an organization or, increasingly, its supply chain.

Indeed, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include specific targets relating to forced labor.  In particular, the SDGs call for (i) the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (SDG 5.2) and (ii) immediate and effective measures to eradicate inter alia forced labor (SDG 8.7).

But what indicators of forced labor should companies look out for?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has published a booklet outlining the most common “indicators“ of forced labor.  These indicators represent the most common signs or “clues” that point to the possible existence of forced labor. The booklet also provides real-life examples to illustrate each indicator.  While the booklet was first published in 2012, the indicators and examples it describes are equally relevant today.

The ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) defines forced labor as ”all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”.

In its booklet, the ILO sets out 11 key indicators of forced labor, namely:

  1. Abuse of vulnerability
  2. Deception
  3. Restriction of movement
  4. Isolation
  5. Physical and sexual violence
  6. Intimidation and threats
  7. Retention of identity documents
  8. Withholding of wages
  9. Debt bondage
  10. Abusive working and living conditions
  11. Excessive overtime

Whilst originally intended to aid “front-line” officers such as law enforcement officials, labor inspectors and NGO officials in identifying potential forced labor, the booklet also serves as a useful resource for companies in identifying indicators of forced labor within their own operations and supply chains.

The ILO has also published a more detailed Handbook for Employers and Business, which offers a “deep dive” into combatting forced labor, and a mobile app titled “Checkpoints for Companies – Eliminating and Preventing Forced Labour”, which enables users to create interactive checklists to help eliminate and prevent forced labor.

Has your organization considered the 11 indicators above in its latest human rights impact assessment?