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An overview of

Forced Labour

Forced labour is the act of ‘forcing’ someone to work or carry out certain deeds against their will (involuntarily) by using punishments or threats through physical or psychological means. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) adds, “It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.”

Forced labour is common in the following industries / sectors of employment:

  • Domestic Work
  • Building and construction
  • Mining
  • Fishing
  • Agricultural Farming 
  • Illegal activities such as drug planting and selling
  • Market Trading
  • Other manual labour such as car washing, working in nail salons or in massage parlours.

Even after intense international negotiation, the definition of what constitutes as forced labour remains vague.

  • Most definitions of forced labour (including the International Labour Organisation’s) exclude labour that is in voluntary duty economic coercion such as legitimate threat of starvation or destitution. This means that workers in forced labour conditions, stuck in jobs due to lack of alternative viable economic options to secure their substance are not encompassed within standard definitions of force labour.

  • The boundary between forced labour and other forms of exploitation is not fixed or fully defined; it is porous, tricky to demonstrate and highly contingent. 

  • Worker’s agency and perceptions of their own working conditions means that not all workers in forced labour conditions identify with such characterisations of their work.