Forced labour is a massive and growing problem with private households worldwide saving around six billion euros a year by not paying or underpaying domestic workers, according to the International Labour Organisation.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. A new ILO report has revealed around 21 million forced labourers are generating at least 110 billion euros a year in illegal profits for those who exploit them.
The figures – which are for 2012 – showed more than half of all forced labourers are in the Asia-Pacific region, accounting for 38 billion euros in profits annually, with 34 billion euros in developed economies, including the European Union.
Two thirds of the total comes from commercial sexual exploitation which produces the highest profits per victim, and ensnares an estimated 4.5 million people, mostly women and girls.
Men and boys are primarily in forced economic exploitation in agriculture, construction, and mining.
The International Labour Organisation calls it a “fundamentally evil, but hugely profitable practice” which should be “eradicated as soon as possible”.
It wants governments to help do that by addressing the root causes of forced labour, trafficking and slavery.
Amid the solid evidence of a link between forced labour and poverty, with poorer and less-educated people most vulnerable to exploitation, the ILO says governments need to improve levels of education and literacy and take steps to prevent households from sliding into the poverty that pushes people into forced labour.