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Bureau of International Labor Affairs
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Forced Labor

The International Labor Organization's Forced Labor Convention defines forced labor as work performed against a person's will, under the threat of some form of penalty.

Forced labor takes many forms. Some victims are born into slavery, which still exists in some parts of the world. Some are trafficked. Some get trapped in endless debt through fraudulent job recruitment schemes or unreasonable pay deductions. Some are confined to workplaces through various forms of physical and psychological coercion.

The ILO estimates that there are approximately 21 million forced labor victims globally. Nearly 70% of these victims are in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing, while 22% are in commercial sexual exploitation.

Our Strategy

ILAB works to combat forced labor around the world in a number of ways.  These include:

  • Research:  We produce and fund research reports that analyze and discuss forced labor around the world.  These reports aim to raise awareness of forced labor among foreign governments, industry groups, and civil society organizations, and to spur action to combat forced labor.
  • Projects:  We fund projects in foreign countries to address forced labor.  These projects tackle forced labor in a variety of ways, including supporting local mechanisms to detect and rescue victims, building organizations' capacity to provide protection services to victims, and building government agencies' capacity to prevent forced labor and prosecute perpetrators.
  • Policy:  We develop U.S. Government policy positions on forced labor issues and advocate for these positions in international fora, including the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Additionally, we regularly report on the extent to which our government gives effect to the principle of the elimination of all forms of forced labor, pursuant to the ILO's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.


ILO conventions call on governments to eradicate all forms of forced labor. By funding research and projects and through its policy work, ILAB plays a part in global efforts to ensure that people do not fall prey to forced labor exploitation.