Measurement of Related Issues

Human Development

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of achievements in three key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The HDI has a range from 0 to 1 with higher scores indicating the average level of human development, based on living a long, healthy life, access to education, and availability of decent work. Less than 0.55 is considered LOW; 0.55-0.699 is MEDIUM; 0.7-0.799 is HIGH; and scores above 0.8 are considered VERY HIGH human development.

What does HDI tell us about vulnerability to exploitation?


Lack of education and illiteracy are key factors involved with the propensity of both children and adults toward exploitative labour conditions. As the seminal ILO report Profits and Poverty explains:

“Adults with low education levels and children whose parents are not educated are at higher risk of forced labour. Low education levels and illiteracy reduce employment options for workers and often force them to accept work under poor conditions. Furthermore, individuals who can read contracts may be in a better position to recognize situations that could lead to exploitation and coercion. Being educated and literate also leads to higher incomes that reduce the likelihood of falling into abject poverty, and hence reduces dependence on credits.”

ILO Labour/Income Measures

Labour income tells us about a household’s vulnerability. As the ILO explains in Profits and Poverty:

“Poor households find it particularly difficult to deal with income shocks, especially when they push households below the food poverty line. In the presence of such shocks, men and women without social protection nets tend to borrow to smooth consumption, and to accept any job for themselves or their children, even under exploitative conditions. This can lead to heavy dependence on creditors, recruiters and unscrupulous employers who exploit their situation of vulnerability.”

ILO indicators that measure poverty with respect to the labour force include working poverty rate, disaggregated by age groupings and gender, with temporal coverage spanning from 2000 to 2016.

Labour Productivity Measures

Labour productivity is an important economic indicator that is closely linked to economic growth, competitiveness, and living standards within an economy.” However, when increased labour output does not produce rising wages this can point to increasing inequality. As indicated by a recent ILO report (2015), there is a “growing disconnect between wages and productivity growth, in both developed and emerging economies”. The lack of decent work available increases the vulnerability of individuals to situations of labour exploitation.

Annual Growth Rate of Output per Worker (measured as GDP in constant 2011 International $ in PPP):

“Labour productivity represents the total volume of output (measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product, GDP) produced per unit of labour (measured in terms of the number of employed persons) during a given time reference period.”

Safety and Health Measures

Data on occupational health and safety may reveal conditions of exploitation, even if exploitation may lead to under-reporting of workplace injuries and safety breaches. At present, the ILO collects data on occupational injuries, both fatal and nonfatal, disaggregating on sex and migrant status.

As the ILO explains:

“The recommended data sources for occupational injuries statistics are national systems for the notification of occupational injuries (such as, labour inspection records and annual reports; insurance and compensation records, death registers), supplemented by household surveys (especially in order to cover informal sector enterprises and the self-employed) and/or establishment surveys.”

Occupational injury and fatality data can also be crucial in prevention and response efforts. As the ILO explains:

“Data on occupational injuries are essential for planning preventive measures. For instance, workers in occupations and activities of highest risk can be targeted more effectively for inspection visits, development of regulations and procedures, and also for safety campaigns.”

There are serious gaps in existing data coverage, particularly among groups that may be highly vulnerable to labour exploitation. For example, few countries provide information on injuries for migrant and non-migrant workers.

Vulnerable Employment

There are reasons to believe that certain types of labour and labour arrangements are more likely to lead to labour exploitation. According to the ILO:

“Own-account workers and contributing family workers have a lower likelihood of having formal work arrangements, and are therefore more likely to lack elements associated with decent employment, such as adequate social security and a voice at work. The two statuses are summed to create a classification of “’vulnerable employment’”, while wage and salaried workers together with employers constitute “’non-vulnerable employment’”.”

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs explains that:

“The share of vulnerable employment is calculated as the sum of contributing family workers and own‐account workers as a percentage of total employment. The indicator of status in employment distinguishes between three categories of the employed, following the International Classification by Status in Employment (ICSE), approved by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 1958 and revised at the 15th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in 1993: (1) wage and salary workers; (2) contributing family workers; and (3) self‐employed workers, including self‐ employed workers with employees (employers), self‐employed workers without employees (own‐ account workers) and members of producers’ cooperatives.”

Groups More Vulnerable to Exploitation: Migrants

Research to date suggests that a major factor in vulnerability to labour exploitation is broader social vulnerability, marginalization or exclusion.
Amongst these, are migrants. According to the 2016 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery:

“Almost one of every four victims of forced labour were exploited outside their country of residence, which points to the high degree of risk associated with migration in the modern world, particularly for migrant women and children. The fight against modern slavery is thus integrally related to global initiatives to promote orderly, safe, and regular migration, such as the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.”

As IOM explains:

“Although most migration is voluntary and has a largely positive impact on individuals and societies, migration, particularly irregular migration, can increase vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation. Despite the growing prevalence of migration as a global phenomenon, migration governance frameworks are not adapting quickly enough to address the emerging protection challenges.”

UNODC similarly notes that:

“The vulnerability to being trafficked is greater among refugees and migrants in large movements, as recognized by Member States in the New York declaration for refugees and migrants of September 2016.”

Defining Groups: UNHCR’s populations of concern

Refugees include individuals recognised under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees; its 1967 Protocol; the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa; those recognised in accordance with the UNHCR Statute; individuals granted complementary forms of protection; or those enjoying temporary protection. Since 2007, the refugee population also includes people in a refugee-like situation.

Asylum-seekers are individuals who have sought international protection and whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined, irrespective of when they may have been lodged.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are people or groups of individuals who have been forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or man-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border. For the purposes of UNHCR’s statistics, this population only includes conflict-generated IDPs to whom the Office extends protection and/or assistance. Since 2007, the IDP population also includes people in an IDP-like situation. For global IDP estimates, see

Returned refugees are former refugees who have returned to their country of origin spontaneously or in an organized fashion but are yet fully integrated. Such return would normally only take place in conditions of safety and dignity.

Returned IDPs refers to those IDPs who were beneficiaries of UNHCR’s protection and assistance activities and who returned to their areas of origin or habitual residence during the year.

Stateless persons are defined under international law as persons who are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. In other words, they do not possess the nationality of any State. UNHCR statistics refer to persons who fall under the agency’s statelessness mandate because they are stateless according to this international definition, but data from some countries may also include persons with undetermined nationality.

Others of concern refers to individuals who do not necessarily fall directly into any of the groups above, but to whom UNHCR extends its protection and/or assistance services, based on humanitarian or other special grounds.

More information here.


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