Hard to see, harder to count : survey guidelines to estimate forced labour of adults and children

These guidelines have present specific guidance and tools for the design, implementation and analysis of quantitative surveys on forced labour of adults and children. The pilot surveys conducted by the ILO and its national partners revealed both the strengths and limitations of the tools proposed. The high quality of the results obtained, however, demonstrated the potential of the innovative methods used, which complement the more widespread use of qualitative data collection methods in this field.

LO global estimates on child and forced labour have focused a spotlight on these persistent and severe violations of the human rights of children and adults. The magnitude of forced labour, estimated to affect some 12 million people, of whom about half are children, has served to demonstrate the urgency of action to address the needs of these most vulnerable workers, and prevent others from falling prey to such exploitation. But the estimates have also highlighted the critical need for sound statistics at national level. Criminal phenomena such as forced labour and human trafficking present obvious measurement challenges; conventional survey instruments are often ill-equipped to capture those child and adult workers concealed in hidden workshops, or toiling in fields under a burden of debt. Action to address child labour and forced labour lies at the heart of the ILO’s decent work agenda, guided by ILO standards on these subjects. The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has, since 1992, worked to eradicate child labour in all parts of the world. In 1998, ILO member States adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, thereby committing themselves to respect, promote and realise freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labour, child labour and discrimination at work. The International Labour Office, for its part, committed itself to assist member States in their efforts. Shortly thereafter, the Programme to Promote the Declaration was established and, in 2001, a Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL) was created as part of this programme. In recent years, IPEC and SAP-FL have invested considerable effort and resources in devising and testing survey methodologies for application at country level, to allow robust national estimation of the number of adults and children in forced labour, and deeper insights into the causes and nature of these problems. This work has represented a real and rewarding collaborative effort between the ILO and the various national institutions (national statistical offices and others) which partnered with ILO for implementing the national surveys.

We take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the governments of those countries which were willing to participate in this pioneering and challenging work to undertake primary data collection on an issue which, for many, remains profoundly uncomfortable and disturbing. Yet, without such work, the shared goal of eliminating such practices, which affect countries in all world regions, will remain that much more elusive. We thank also our collaborators in the institutions which undertook the surveys, which required an extraordinary degree of commitment and hard work. Particular mention should be made too of the donor countries whose support to IPEC and SAP-FL has made this work possible – the governments of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The national surveys have provided the basis on which these guidelines could be elaborated. While acknowledging that the guidance and tools presented here can doubtless be improved in the light of experience, we believe that they represent a genuine step forward in research techniques in this difficult area.

Statistics very often generate intense scrutiny and debate. It is our sincere hope that these guidelines, and more importantly the national statistics and insights that are produced as a result of them, will generate not only debate, but will contribute to intensified and more effective action to eliminate the modern day crimes that forced labour and trafficking of adults and children represent.