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ILO Urges Global Alliance Against Forced Labor

Delegates attending the International Labor Organization's annual conference in Geneva are calling for a global alliance against forced labor. The conference, which ends Thursday, also discussed issues including the need to revise international regulations governing working hours, occupational safety and health, and youth employment.

The International Labor Organization says millions of people are enslaved through forced labor around the world. The conference discussed a report titled "A global alliance against forced labor" that calls for an action plan within the next four years.

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia says forced labor is hidden, and that is why it is so difficult to eliminate. He says only tough action by governments will stop the problem.

"The report is very clear," he said. "Have tough legislation, criminalize it, be able to prosecute it, to investigate it. But, at the same time, work at the community level, at the local level, at the school level. There are lot of things they need to do nationally."

The ILO says job creation and a fair system of globalization will lead toward poverty reduction, but It also says the world is far from achieving this goal.

Mr. Somavia notes that last year the world economy grew by five percent, but unemployment was reduced by only 500,000.

"And the five percent growth is equivalent to $4 trillion of wealth creation. Just imagine. An enormous amount of wealth creation and a trickle of jobs. This is why this is essentially a political issue. Those types of predictions cannot continue."

Mr. Somavia warns the continued imbalance between the wealthy and the poor eventually will pose a risk to open markets, open societies, and to the establishment of democracy.

Another key issue at the conference is global fishing, considered one of the world's most dangerous industries. Seven ILO standards on fishing were adopted between 1920 and 1966. But they only cover about 10 percent of all fishing industry workers - those who work on large vessels.

The Director of the ILO's Industry Sector, Norman Jennings, says a new fishing convention that covers more than 90 percent of workers is expected to be adopted Thursday.

"It covers hours of rest," he said. "It covers social security. It covers fishers who get paid by a share of the catch rather than a wage. They are normally considered to be self-employed. These are covered as well. There are provisions for a written agreement between the fisher and the owner of the vessel. So that the fisher knows now just what the terms of the employment are. There are also strong provisions on minimum age."

Mr. Jennings says the vast majority of people who will be covered by the new convention work on small fishing vessels in developing countries.