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Labor Day looms. If you’re lucky, you’ll be squeezing in one more day at the beach, grilling barbeque, or taking an afternoon nap.

Despite being originally intended to support basic labor protections such as an eight-hour workday and to honor the working classes, Labor Day is meaningless for those trapped in situations of forced labor or human trafficking.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates there are 1.5 million women, men, and children who are victims of forced labor in developed economies such as the United States, Canada, and Europe. The number rises to a staggering 21 million worldwide, approximately a quarter of whom are children.

Often called “modern-day slavery,” forced labor takes many forms, and is especially common in agriculture, domestic work, manufacturing, and the sex industry. Many victims work long hours in hazardous conditions for little or no pay, face psychological, physical, or sexual violence, and cannot escape due to confinement, debt bondage, or threats of retaliation.

Despite being hidden from the public eye, this abuse is lucrative for the exploiters. The ILO estimates that those exacting forced labor make US$150 billion in illegal profits.

Members of the ILO – governments, trade unions, and business associations – came together in June to strengthen international standards and action on forced labor. They adopted a landmark new treaty to prevent forced labor, and to protect and compensate survivors.


The new Forced Labor Protocol modernizes a widely-ratified, but outdated, 1930 treaty. The protocol’s measures include:

  • Expanding labor laws and inspections to sectors at risk of forced labor;
  • Protecting migrants from exploitative recruitment practices;
  • Supporting due diligence by businesses to prevent and respond to forced labor in their operations;
  • Providing assistance to victims and protecting them from retaliation; and
  • Ensuring that all victims, regardless of their immigration status, have access to justice and remedies, including compensation.


Forced labor has no place in modern society. Governments should renew their efforts against this scourge by ratifying the protocol and turning it into meaningful protection on the ground, so that by next year’s Labor Day, there will be progress to celebrate.


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