West News Wire: The International Labour Organization (ILO) of the United Nations reported on Monday that the number of individuals caught in forced labour, forced marriage, and other crises has increased by a fifth in recent years, to about 50 million on any given day.

More than half of those had been forced to work against their will at the end of the previous year, according to a research conducted by the UN agencies for labour and migration and the Walk Free Foundation, according to the ILO. The remaining individuals had been forced into marriage.

According to the research, that means that almost one in every 150 individuals worldwide are victims of modern-day slavery.

Both came under its definition of modern slavery as they involved people who “cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, deception, abuse of power or other forms of coercion”, it added.

The UN had set a goal to eradicate all forms of modern slavery by 2030, but the number of people caught up in forced labour or forced marriage ballooned by 10 million between 2016 and 2021, according to a new report.

The situation had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which worsened conditions and swelled debt levels for many workers, as well as armed conflicts and climate change, leaving people in extreme poverty and forcing more to migrate, the agency said.

“I think, by and large, that we simply relaxed our efforts. We’ve taken our eye off the ball when it comes to forced labour,” ILO Director General Guy Ryder told the Reuters news agency, calling for improvements in recruitment practices and labour inspections.

He said trade measures, such as a ban on products and imports made with forced labour currently under review by the European Union, could also help.

Modern slavery is present in basically every country, with more than half of cases of forced labour and a quarter of forced marriages in upper-middle-income or high-income countries.

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“It would be a mistake to believe that forced labour is solely the problem of poor countries,” Ryder told the AFP news agency.

Migrant workers are more than three times as likely as locals to be affected, the ILO said.

The ILO also said women and children are by far the most vulnerable. Children account for one out of five people in forced labour, with more than half of them stuck in commercial sexual exploitation, the report explained.

But the report also said 14 percent of those in forced labour were doing jobs imposed by state authorities, voicing concern about the abuse of compulsory prison labour in many countries, including the United States.

It also pointed to grave concerns raised by the UN rights office about “credible accounts of forced labour under exceptionally harsh conditions” in North Korea.

And it highlighted the situation in China, pointing to concern about accusations of forced labour in parts of the country.

It made reference to a report issued on August 31 by the UN’s rights office, which said that China had engaged in “severe human rights breaches” and that the arrest of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang might have involved crimes against humanity.

China has vehemently refuted the allegations and ratified two agreements prohibiting forced labour last month.

According to Ryder, this indicates “they will start to report on the condition of the Uighurs, and that will provide us more opportunity to gain access and to dive deeper into that scenario.”

He admitted that it was “not an easy subject but obviously, it’s a very essential one” to talk about labour rights in Xinjiang.

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