05/19/2005, 00.00
ASIA
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Almost 10 million people work in slave-like conditions in Asia

Forced labour generates profits worth US$ 9.7 billion. The International Labour Organisation calls on the international community to punish this crime and adopt plans to fight poverty.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Some 9.5 million people are working as forced labourers in the Asia-Pacific region, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said.

In a report released on Tuesday, May 17, entitled A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour, the ILO said there are 12.3 million forced labourers worldwide, three-quarters of which the Asia-Pacific region alone.

ILO Asia-Pacific regional director Shinichi Hasegawa said that in this region the forced labour problem was extremely serious.

"Indeed, one could expect that in today's world of modern information technology, enlightened political and human rights awareness and the growth of democracy, forced labour would have become a thing of the past. Sadly, the opposite is true," he said.

"In Asia-Pacific, 1.4 million of these 9.5 million people are in forced labour because they were trafficked. The remaining 8.1 million are trapped in other ways, most frequently by debt bondage," Mr Hasegawa explained.

He said however that "the human cost—the broken lives, emotional pain and physical suffering—can never be measured."

Yet, "we can say that exploiters in Asia-Pacific are making estimated profits of US$ 9.7 billion per year".

The victims of forced labour come from the poorest economic and social levels and often have no financial assets. "Many end up in forced labour through deception; a factory or domestic job they were promised turns out to be prostitution. Often the traffickers are known to their victims—family friends or distant relations," Mr Hasegawa explained.

The fight against forced labour is difficult, he stressed; none the less, "we call for a global alliance against [it]. Two widely ratified ILO conventions on forced labour guide the way, spelling out criminal sanctions against those who exact forced labour."

"All countries should enact strong laws against forced labour, but law enforcement is only part of the solution," Mr Hasegawa said, stressing that national actions against forced labour have been most effective when there have been a national policy or plan.

"Employers, workers and other civil society groups should be involved as well. But forced and bonded labour also needs to be addressed in the plans of development banks and others concerned with poverty alleviation."

Experts from 10 Asian countries will meet in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia next week to discuss stopping this scourge.

The two-day meeting on May 25 and 26 is being organised by the ILO and the Mongolian government.

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