Measuring Forced Labour

Measuring the incidence of forced labour presents unique methodological challenges:

  1. obtaining a representative sample that can be used to make inferences about the total population; and
  2. obtaining accurate information from individuals being sampled.

Both of these issues arise from the fact that forced labour is hidden or hard to detect and largely criminalized. This makes it more difficult to access victims for inclusion in a sample and for victims to be forthcoming in providing information that could put them at risk. (Source: Forced Labour, Andrees and Belser 2009)

At the global and regional level, forced labour is measured by the International Labour Organization. The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage prepared by the ILO, Walk Free and IOM and published in 2016 offer estimates at the regional and global levels, not at the national level. The Global Estimates provide the best available data and information about the scale and distribution of forced labour and forced marriage today. But there remains a need for more and better data, improved capacity of national data collection, and refinement and improvement in the measurement of modern slavery and forced labour.

At the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in 2013 a resolution was adopted recommending that the ILO “set up a working group with the aim of sharing best practices on forced labour surveys in order to encourage further such data gathering exercises in more countries”.

The result of this international working group will be presented at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians in October 2018. In parallel, discussions are ongoing to strengthen Sustainable Development Goal indicators related to modern slavery.

Types of Forced Labour

The ILO’s approach includes certain operational definitions:

“Forced labour of adults is defined… as work for which a person has not offered him or herself voluntarily (concept of “involuntariness”) and which is performed under the menace of any penalty (concept of “coercion”) applied by an employer or a third party to the worker. The coercion may take place during the worker’s recruitment process to force him or her to accept the job or, once the person is working, to force him/her to do tasks which were not part of what was agreed at the me of recruitment or to prevent him/her from leaving the job…forced labour of children is defined as work performed by children under coercion applied by a third party (other than by his or her parents) either to the child or to the child’s parents, or work performed by a child as a direct consequence of their parent or parents being engaged in forced labour. The coercion may take place during the child’s recruitment, to force the child or his or her parents to accept the job, or once the child is working, to force him/her to do tasks which were not part of what was agreed at the time of recruitment or to prevent the child from leaving the work. If a child is working as a direct consequence of his or her parents being in a situation of forced labour, then the child is also considered to be in forced labour.”

Global Estimates typology

The typology developed for the Global Estimates, building on these operational definitions, is based on three main categories of forced labour defined as follows:

“Forced labour exploitation, imposed by private agents for labour exploitation, including bonded labour, forced domestic work, and work imposed in the context of slavery or vestiges of slavery.”

“Forced sexual exploitation of adults, imposed by private agents for commercial sexual exploitation, and all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children. This encompasses the use, procuring, or offering of children for prostitution or pornography.”

“State-imposed forced labour, including work exacted by the public authorities, military, or para-military, compulsory participation in public works, and forced prison labour.”

Additionally, “forced marriage refers to situations where persons, regardless of their age, have been forced to marry without their consent. A person might be forced to marry through physical, emotional, or financial duress, deception by family members, the spouse, or others, or the use of force, threats, or severe pressure. Forced marriage is prohibited through the prohibitions on slavery and slavery-like practices, including servile marriage. Child marriage is generally considered to be forced marriage, given that one and/or both parties by definition has not expressed full, free, and informed consent. However, there are exceptions. For example, in many countries 16 and 17 year-olds who wish to marry are legally able to do so following a judicial ruling or parental consent. It is important to be clear that for the purposes of these estimates, the measurement of forced marriage is limited to what was captured by the surveys.”

Survey Design Requirements Specific to the Measurement of Forced Labour

As the ILO explains:

“In statistical terms, the phenomenon of forced labour is rare and requires a survey design that minimizes the cost and effort involved in locating and surveying the target population. Because forced labour is universally condemned and outlawed, gaining access to victims may be difficult and, even once identified, potential victims may avoid giving truthful responses. Survey planning involves choosing both the type and the structure of the survey. Choosing the type of survey means deciding on the survey unit, i.e. whether the data will be collected at the household where the worker resides, at the establishment where they work, or through other units such as service providers, news reports, etc. Survey structure means the way the survey operations are organized, i.e. whether additional questions or modules are included in an existing survey, a standalone survey is implemented, or a combination of both is used for different elements of the survey.”

Sampling Rare and Hidden Populations

As the ILO explains:

“Sampling for such rare populations from a sampling frame of the general population can be extremely difficult, as there is no agreement on precisely what ‘rare’ signifies. For proportions of less than 1/100, the sample size required to achieve a reasonable degree of accuracy when estimating the size of the rare population can be very large. Moreover, the degree of accuracy of the estimate decreases rapidly with the disaggregation of the rare population into its component parts (sex, age groups, etc.).”

The hidden nature of forced labour “affects not only the observation stage of the survey process with non-response or misreporting, but also the sampling stage, as certain units may not appear in the sampling frame and therefore have zero chance of selection. This difficulty should be discussed during the preparation phase, so that it is part of the decision on the scope and type of the survey.”

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