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ILO Says Criminals Make Billions From Forced Labor

The International Labor Organization says criminals are making $20 billion a year from forced labor and that figure is substantially higher when profits from sexual exploitation are factored in. A new report launched by the ILO in Geneva finds the impact of the global economic and jobs crisis is worsening the forced labor problem.

New data from the International Labor Organization finds criminals now are making five times more in profits from forced labor than they did four years ago. At that time, the ILO reported they were making huge profits of $32 billion a year. That included $28 billion from sexual exploitation.

Roger Plant, heads the ILO's Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labor, tells VOA illicit profits from forced labor are likely to be much more now.

"In 2005, we looked at $4 billion of profits outside the sex industry. We are now saying, we have a loss to the workers of $20 billion outside the sex industry. So, we are likely to be dealing with a much more serious problem, "he said.

That would add up to $52 billion, if the profits of sexual exploitation were the same.

The ILO calls forced labor a global problem. It says this form of modern slavery operates in multinational companies in industrialized countries, not just in the informal sector of developing countries.

The U.N. agency reports more than 12 million people around the world are trapped in all forms of forced labor. Between 40 and 50 percent are children under the age of 18. Plant says child labor is a particularly serious problem in West African countries. He adds the whole issue of forced labor has not received enough attention in Africa.

"For us, forced labor is a serious crime," added Plant. "It has to be dealt with through adequate penalties and it has to be strictly enforced. Sometimes in Africa, we found that there is a strong focus on slavery. But, sometimes quite low and weak penalties for a slaver. We also have got countries in West Africa where there has been a legacy of slavery and slavery-like conditions. These are quite serious problems that need to be strictly addressed."

The report finds people are forced to work very long hours under bad conditions for no pay or very little pay in a wide range of industries. It says forced labor is appearing in electronics, automobiles and modern textiles, as well as in brick kilns, small fishing boats and backward agriculture in developing countries.

In times of economic and financial crisis, it says migrants, including young women and children are more exposed to forced labor. Under conditions of hardship, the study notes vulnerable people will take more risks than before.