On June 11, 2014, the International Labour Conference adopted a new Protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labour (the Protocol).[i] The Protocol is novel because it is neither a soft law ‘recommendation’ nor an entirely new ‘Convention’ on forced labour. Instead, the Protocol is meant to enhance efforts to eliminate forced labour by addressing numerous implementation gaps in forced labour Convention No. 29. This article examines the new Protocol including the implementation gaps that it is meant to address, why it was adopted, and its potential to contribute to the eradication of forced labour. Part I provides background information on forced labour and on Convention No. 29 as well as other international instruments on trafficking and forced labour. Part II identifies the implementation gaps and protocol provisions to address the gaps. Part III offers some illustrations for how the protocol might impact the treatment of forced labour and trafficking. Part IV concludes with a discussion of the Protocol’s potential to reinvigorate international labour standard setting by the International Labour Organization (ILO).


Despite decades of international effort to eradicate forced labour, it remains a pervasive worldwide challenge. The ILO estimates that almost 21 million individuals are victims of forced labour (of which 11.4 million are women and girls and 9.5 million are men and boys).[ii] The private sector is responsible for the bulk of this problem, as it exploits 19 million individuals, while governments and rebel groups exploit an estimated 2 million
people.[iii] Consequently, forced labour in the private sector generates an estimated US $150 billion in illegal profits every year.[iv]

Often viewed as synonymous with human trafficking, forced labour and trafficking are related but distinct concepts. As the ILO notes, there are types of forced labour that may not be considered a form of human trafficking, such as forced prison labour and some instances of bonded labour.[v] Similarly, there are forms of human trafficking, including organ removal, or forced marriage or adoption, that are not necessarily forced labour (though the latter two practices could constitute forced labour if the intent is to exploit the labour of the woman or child in question).[vi] Nonetheless, there is a significant overlap between the two concepts, in so far as most human trafficking results in forced labour or sexual exploitation.[vii]

Despite the close relationship between forced labour and human trafficking, countries have historically emphasized the eradication of trafficking in general, and sex trafficking in particular.[viii] While the ILO estimates that there are 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation, the sectors of greatest concern are domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and entertainment.[ix] Therefore, the problem with focusing exclusively on eradicating sex trafficking is that it necessarily neglects the other forms of widespread forced labour, including domestic, non-trafficked labour. Thus, there is an urgent need to focus on eradicating not just human trafficking (sex or otherwise), but all forms of forced labour that plague countries around the world.


The two chief conventions aimed at eradicating forced labour are ILO Conventions 29 and 105.[x] Adopted in 1930, Convention 29 was initially meant to address forced labour resulting from the context of colonial administrations, and secondarily to that under non-colonial governments.[xi] Nevertheless, Convention 29 provided an open-ended definition of forced labour, without listing specific prohibitions.[xii] Article 2[xiii] defines forced labour as “…all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”[xiv] This definition continues to apply to all forms of forced labour regardless of the sector, [xv] and is used in the Protocol as well. In 1957, the International Labour Conference adopted Convention 105 to enhance Convention 29 by requiring the immediate eradication of forced labour in five specific cases[xvi] related to State economic and political coercion.[xvii] Support for these two conventions is nearly universal. Out of 185 member countries,[xviii] 177 have ratified Convention No. 29,[xix] and 174[xx] are parties to Convention No. 105.

In addition to these conventions, a range of other ILO Conventions, Recommendations, and Declarations are aimed at buttressing the abolition of forced labour.[xxi] The connection between these various documents and the forced labour conventions is important because forced labour violations often concurrently intersect with violations of other international labour laws.[xxii] However, despite the broad range of coverage offered by these two conventions, there was a feeling that additional measures were needed to eradicate modern forms of forced labour by addressing gaps in implementing the conventions.[xxiii]

Consequently, at its 101st Session in 2012, the International Labour Conference asked the International Labour Office to “conduct a detailed analysis, including through the possible convening of meetings of experts to identify gaps in existing coverage of ILO standards with a view to determining whether there is a need for standard setting to: (i) complement the ILO’s forced labour Conventions to address prevention and victim protection, including compensation; and (ii) address human trafficking for labour exploitation”.[xxiv] In November 2012, the Governing Body of the International Labour Office subsequently decided to hold a tripartite meeting of experts who were charged with providing recommendations for new potential standards that might be placed on the agenda for the 103rd Session of the International Labour Conference in June 2014.[xxv]

In February 2013, the tripartite meeting of experts took place in Geneva. Drawing on a comprehensive International Labour Office report as the basis of the discussion, the experts concluded that “…despite the broad reach of Convention No. 29…significant implementation gaps remain in the effective eradication of forced labour and need to be urgently addressed in terms of prevention, victim protection, compensation, enforcement, policy coherence and international cooperation …”[xxvi] Moreover, they also concluded that “…there was added value in the adoption of supplementary measures to address the significant implementation gaps remaining in order to effectively eradicate forced labour in all its forms.”[xxvii]

Subsequently, the International Labour Conference held its 103rd Session from May 28 to June 12, 2014. At the 103rd Session, the ILO Committee on Forced Labour decided that the General Conference of the International Labour Conference should vote on the adoption of a binding Protocol to Convention 29, supported by an ILO Recommendation.[xxviii] As a result, with 437 votes for, 8 against, and 27 abstentions,[xxix] the ILO adopted the Protocol to Convention 29 on June 11, 2014. The Protocol represents the third ILO instrument designed to strengthen international efforts to end all forms of forced labour.[xxx] Alongside the Protocol, the ILO adopted Recommendation 203.[xxxi]

In its pre-ambulatory language, as well as Article 1, the Protocol explicitly links forced labour and human trafficking. It states that “…the context and forms of forced or compulsory labour have changed and trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced or compulsory labour, which may involve sexual exploitation, is the subject of growing international concern and requires urgent action for its effective elimination…”[xxxii]; and “the measures referred to in this Protocol shall include specific action against trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced or compulsory labour.”[xxxiii] The Protocol also recognizes gaps in implementation of Convention 29 regarding “prevention, protection, and remedies”.[xxxiv]

With this as the backdrop, the Protocol is focused at its core on promoting prevention of forced labour, having a victim-centered orientation, and fostering international cooperation. Article 1 requires States to have a national action plan.[xxxv] Toward that end, Article 2 puts forth seven mandatory measures countries must adopt to prevent forced labour. These include: (a) the education of potential victims of forced labour, especially those most vulnerable; (b) the education of employers to prevent involvement in forced labour practices; (c) making efforts to ensure that the coverage and enforcement of legislation to prevent forced labour applies to all workers and all sectors of the economy; (d) making efforts to ensure that inspection and the implementation of legislation is strengthened; (e) protecting potential victims, particularly migrant workers, from abusive practices during recruitment and placement; (f) supporting the exercise of due diligence by both public and private sectors to prevent and respond to risks of forced labour, and (g) addressing the root causes and risks of forced labour.[xxxvi]

Articles 3-4 put forth several measures to ensure that States support victims, ranging from requiring “access to appropriate and effective remedies”[xxxvii] to ensuring that States do not penalize victims for “their involvement in unlawful activities which they have been compelled to commit as a direct consequence of being subjected to forced or compulsory labour.”[xxxviii] Recognizing that the challenges posed by forced labour cross international boundaries, Article 5 requires States to “cooperate with each other to ensure the prevention and elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour”.[xxxix]

Interestingly, the Protocol provides flexibility to States, presumably because the ILO recognizes the unique context each country faces. While a list of mandatory end goals are set forth, States can choose the tools needed to meet them based on their national circumstances. Article 6 provides: “[t]he measures taken to apply the provisions of this Protocol and of the Convention shall be determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned”.[xl] Accompanying the Protocol, Recommendation 203[xli] provides a more robust series of prescriptive measures. As a non-binding recommendation,[xlii] these measures constitute a range of suggested policies and practices aimed at helping States build out effective forced labour prevention programs.


Given the explicitly proclaimed link between forced labour and human trafficking in the Protocol, the Protocol has the potential to help countries focus on eradicating both challenges simultaneously and with equal vigor. While the ILO has tried to focus equally on the two challenges when examining State compliance with Convention 29,[xliii] countries have not responded with such equal measure, as they tend to focus on sex trafficking, as noted above.[xliv]

Helpfully, the US—as indicated by its actions leading up to and during the adoption of the Protocol, along with its reporting on forced labour and human trafficking—appears to be altering its focus. Even though the US has not ratified Convention 29,[xlv] the US is supportive of the Protocol, and the need to shift the focus away from sexual exploitation to broader forms of trafficking and forced labour. This support is evidenced by the US voting in favor of adopting the Protocol,[xlvi] and the Protocol language it supported during the drafting stage.[xlvii] Examining the drafting process clearly indicates that the US believes forms of forced labour have changed over time,[xlviii] include both forced labour and trafficking,[xlix] and that domestic forced labour poses a bigger challenge than labour arising under trafficking across borders.[l]

In addition to its support for the protocol during discussions at the ILO, the US Government has been monitoring and reporting on trafficking and forced labour. Treatment of these issues between 2007 and 2012[li] in Country Reports for Brazil,[lii] Mauritania,[liii] Thailand,[liv] and the US[lv] indicate that the US Government has been focusing more attention on forced labour generally, as opposed to (sex) trafficking in particular.

Brazil has an estimated 200,000-220,000 enslaved persons.[lvi] 24,000 of these individuals are nationals that primarily work in rural agriculture, livestock, and logging industries,[lvii] and 100,000 individuals are from Bolivia (at least half of whom have been trafficked) that work in the garment industry.[lviii] Mauritania on the other hand has an estimated 140,000-160,000 enslaved persons—consisting of up to 20% of its population—which is the highest country proportion in the world.[lix] Mauritanian nationals are primarily enslaved through a chattel system that has been passed down through generations of people originally captured during historical raids by slave-owning groups.[lx] These forced labourers are predominantly cattle herders, domestic servants, sex workers, and beggars forced by corrupt religious leaders.[lxi] Individuals trafficked into the country are also forcibly placed into this system of begging, domestic servitude, and prostitution.[lxii] By contrast, Thailand has estimated 450,000-500,000 enslaved persons.[lxiii] Thai nationals are forced to work in the sex, fishing, construction and agricultural industries, and in low-end garment production, domestic work and street begging.[lxiv] Internationally trafficked persons (which primarily come from neighboring countries into Thailand) are also forced to work in the same industries.[lxv]

These countries are highlighted here, not just for their geographic diversity, but because they illustrate the diverse forced labour and trafficking challenges the world exhibits: countries face both domestic, non-trafficked labour and forced labour as a result of human trafficking. Because the US has taken a leading role in trying to combat forced labour (both within its borders and internationally), its examination of the full range of forced labour as exhibited by its scrutiny of Brazil, Mauritania, Thailand, and itself in its newer Trafficking in Persons and Human Rights Country reports could serve as a model for other countries wishing to follow suit.


There are several reasons for optimism for the Protocol’s potential success. First, among the reasons, is its quality. It was influenced by analysis of the real challenges of eradicating forced labour, and in particular, enforcement problems. In addition to enforcement, there is an emphasis on prevention, identification, and treatment of the root causes of forced labour. The Protocol is also innovative because it does not establish a one-size-fits-all substantive prescription for eradicating forced labour, but instead requires countries to engage in establishing their own plans for eradicating forced labour. Of course, the Protocol will only be successful if countries ratify and implement it. Therefore, there is reason for cautious optimism. Forced labour is arguably the least controversial area of international labour standards. As such, there is potentially greater consensus among countries, and even support rather than opposition from the business community, to embrace reinvigorated standards.[lxvi] Finally, and in a realist vein, the Protocol codifies what important actors such as the US have begun doing anyway: rebalancing the focus on forced labour more equally to encompass trafficking and non-trafficked forced labour.

Furthermore, there is the potential for the US to lead on the eradication of forced labour with its continued emphasis in its Trafficking in Persons and Human Rights Country reports on broader forms of forced labour away from (sex) trafficking. US leadership would be more meaningful if the US ratified Convention No. 29 as well as the Protocol. Regardless, this is a good opportunity for dialogue about the US joining with other countries in adopting ILO standards to eradicate some of the worst violations of human rights.

As with any treaty, what will ultimately give the Protocol value and meaning is proper implementation and enforcement. Presently, only Niger has ratified the Protocol.67 However, the overwhelming number of votes in favor of adopting the Protocol indicates broad international support. This support suggests that additional countries may soon start ratifying, and thereafter reinvigorating, their efforts to eradicate all forms of forced labour and human trafficking.



1 Int’l Labour Org. [ILO], Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention (1930) adopted by the Int’l Labour Conference at its 103rd Session (Jun. 11, 2014) [hereinafter Protocol].

[ii] ILO, Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Slavery,–en/index.htm (last visited Dec.15, 2014) [hereinafter Forced Labour, Human Trafficking, and Slavery].

[iii] Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Slavery, supra note 2.

[iv] Id.

[v] ILO, Report IV(I): Strengthening Action to End Forced Labour, at ¶ 8 (July 16, 2013) [hereinafter ILO Report IV(I)].

[vi] ILO Report IV(1), supra note 5.

[vii] Id.

[viii] See ILO Report IV(1), supra note 5 at ¶ 66; see also Dana Raigrodski, Economic Migration Gone Wrong: Trafficking in Persons Through the Lens of Gender, Labour and Globalization 25 Ind. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 20-13(2014); Janie Chuang, Beyond a Snapshot: Preventing Human Trafficking in the Global Economy, 13 Ind. J. Global Legal Stud. 152 (2006).

[ix] Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Slavery, supra note 2.

[x] ILO, C029 – Forced Labour Convention, Jun. 28, 1930 [hereinafter Convention 105; ILO, C105 – Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, Jun. 25, 1957 [hereinafter Convention 105].

[xi] Donald Anton, Introductory Note: 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930

International Legal Materials, Austl. Nat’l U. Coll. of L. Research Paper No. 14-36, 1 (forthcoming) [hereinafter Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol].

[xii] Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11.

[xiii] Convention 29, supra note 10, Art. 2(1).

[xiv] Convention 29, supra note 10, Art. 2(2) (providing a list of Labour activities that do not constitute forced labour).

[xv] Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11 (noting “[t]he definition is broad enough to cover everything from compelling slave labour to debt bondage, to sexual trafficking and slavery”).

[xvi] Convention 105, supra note 10, Art. 1 (indicating the fives cases: “(a) as a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system; (b) as a method of mobilising and using labour for purposes of economic development; (c) as a means of labour discipline; (d) as a punishment for having participated in strikes; (e) as a means of racial, social, national or religious discrimination”).

[xvii] Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11 (noting that the US ratification of Convention No. 105 was related to the Cold War, as the Convention targeted use of forced labour as “education” by socialist countries).

[xviii] See NORMLEX, Country Profile, ILO, (last visited Jan. 21, 2015) (providing an alphabetical list of the 185 ILO member countries).

[xix] See NORMLEX, Ratifications of C029 – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), (last visited Jan. 8, 2015) (providing an alphabetical list of the 177 countries that rectified Convention No. 29) [hereinafter Convention No. 29 Ratifications].

[xx] See NORMLEX, Ratifications of C105 – Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105), (last visited Jan. 8, 2015) (providing an alphabetical list of the 174 countries that ratified Convention No. 105).

[xxi] Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11.

[xxii] Id.

[xxiii] Id.

[xxiv] Id. at 2.

[xxv] Id. at 2.

[xxvi] Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11, at 2.

[xxvii] Id.

[xxviii] Id.

[xxix] Int’l Labour Conf., Provisional Record 16, 103rd Session, 16/26, (May–June 2014),—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/
wcms_247587.pdf [hereinafter Vote Record for Protocol].

[xxx] Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11, at 2.

[xxxi] ILO, Recommendation 203 – Recommendation on Supplementary Measures for the Effective Suppression of Forced Labour, Jun. 11, 2014 [hereinafter Recommendation 103].

[xxxii] Protocol, supra note 1, at Preamble. See also ILO/Forced Labour Protocol, Unifeed (Jun. 11, 2014), (depicting Beate Andrees, the head of the Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, calling the adoption of the Protocol a “historic moment” in part because there is now “a clear link between forced labour and human trafficking and that both the protocol and the recommendations provide concrete guidance on addressing trafficking for the purpose of forced or compulsory labour.”).

[xxxiii] Protocol, supra note 1, Art. 1(3).

[xxxiv] Protocol, supra note 1, at Preamble.

[xxxv] Protocol, supra note 1, at Art. 1(2).

[xxxvi] Protocol, supra note 1, Art. 2; see also Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11, at 3.

[xxxvii] Protocol, supra note 1, Art. 4.

[xxxviii] Id.

[xxxix] Id., Art. 5; see also Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11, at 4-5.

[xl] Protocol, supra note 1, Art. 6; see also Introductory Note to 2014 Protocol, supra note 11, at 3.

[xli] Recommendation 103, supra note 31.

[xlii] Although recommendations under international law do not have binding legal effect, they serve as authoritative interpretations of a treaty’s meaning and are instructive as to the ways a treaty should be utilized and implemented.

[xliii] See e.g. NORMLEX, Search Comments by the Supervisory Bodies,
/f?p=1000:20010:0::NO::: (last visited Dec.16, 2014) (regarding the 2013 Committee of Expert Observations on Convention 29 for the following countries—Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Zambia—in which the Committee addressed with equal measure both human trafficking and forced Labour challenges. It only focused on one over the other when that challenge had a greater prevalence in a given country).

[xliv] See supra note 8.

[xlv] Convention No. 29 Ratifications, supra note 19.

[xlvi] Vote Record for Protocol, supra note 29; see also ILO: Report of the Committee on Forced Labour, Supplementing the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), to Address Implementation Gaps to Advance Prevention, Protection and Compensation Measures, to Effectively Achieve the Elimination of Forced Labour, ¶¶ 20, 1271, (June 20, 2014) [hereinafter Forced Labour Supplementary Report] (noting “[t]he Government member of the United States welcomed the opportunity to consider ways to strengthen Convention No. 29 and advance efforts to combat forced labour by addressing implementation gaps related to prevention, protection and compensation. The Convention was a relevant and vital tool in the fight against forced labour. Her Government supported the adoption of a concise Protocol and a more detailed Recommendation that would provide guidance on measures of prevention, protection and compensation to supplement both the Convention and the Protocol” and “[t]he Government member of the United States commended the Committee for the important achievement. She thanked the Office for its excellent work leading to that moment. She also thanked her colleagues in the room – Workers, Employers and Governments. Despite sometimes differing views and difficult discussions, great collaboration had enabled the Committee to reach hard compromises and achieve consensus. She was pleased that the Committee was able to adopt the texts of the Protocol and the Recommendation which would be presented in plenary for adoption. She hoped that they would serve to advance the fight against forced labour around the globe”).

[xlvii] Forced Labour Supplementary Report, supra note 46.

[xlviii] Id. at ¶¶ 89-92.

[xlix] Id. at ¶ 329.

[l] Id. at ¶ 513 (noting how “[t]he Government members of Australia, Mexico and the United States agreed with the Government member of New Zealand. The United States added that inclusion of that wording in Article 3 detracted from the fact that most forced labour took place without any crossing of borders”).

[li] These two data points were chosen because they represent the middle of two different US administrations, and thus can give some indication of how the issues have been addressed overtime.

[lii] U.S. State Department, 2007 Brazil Report on Human Rights Practices,; U.S. State Department, 2007 Trafficking in Persons Brazil Report,; U.S. State Department, 2012 Brazil Report on Human Rights Practices,
index.htm?year=2012&dlid=204431#wrapper; U.S. State Department, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Brazil Report,

[liii] U.S. State Department, 2007 Mauritania Report on Human Rights Practices,
j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100493.htm; U.S. State Department, 2007 Trafficking in Persons Mauritania Report,; U.S. State Department, 2012 Mauritania Report on Human Rights Practices,
&dlid=204143#wrapper; US State Department, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Mauritania Report,

[liv] U.S. State Department, 2007 Thailand Report on Human Rights Practices,
hrrpt/2007/100539.htm; U.S. State Department, 2007 Trafficking in Persons Thailand Report,; U.S. State Department, 2012 Thailand Report on Human Rights Practices,
&dlid=204241#wrapper; U.S. State Department, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Thailand Report,

[lv] U.S. State Department, 2007 Trafficking in Persons US Report,
organization/82902.pdf; U.S. State Department, 2012 Trafficking in Persons US Report,
j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2012/192368.htm (noting that while the US has reports that examine its domestic forced labour and human trafficking challenges and efforts, it does not have a comprehensive human rights report like it does for other countries).

[lvi] The Global Slavery Index 2013, Brazil,

[lvii] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Including its Causes and Consequences, Mission to Brazil, ¶¶ 27-30, U.N. Doc A/HRC/15/20/Add.4 (Aug. 30, 2010).

[lviii] Id. at ¶¶ 72-80.

[lix] The Global Slavery Index 2013, Mauritania,

[lx] Id.

[lxi] U.S. State Department, 2013 Trafficking in Persons Mauritania Report, 258,

[lxii] Id.

[lxiii] The Global Slavery Index 2013, Thailand,

[lxiv] U.S. State Department, 2013 Trafficking in Persons Thailand Report, 358,

[lxv] Id.

[lxvi] See e.g. International Organisation of Employers, IOE-ILO Guidance Note on the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (noting “[a]s constituents of the ILO, the Employers will be part of the development of the ILO framework of action for the implementation of these two new instruments to effectively engage and advance the international agenda for the elimination of all forms of forced labour. Forced labour is an abhorrent practice and a severe human rights violation. Business supports the complete abolition and elimination of forced labour in all its forms, including human trafficking, as soon as possible – for the obvious ethical reasons that victims of forced labour lose their freedom and dignity and are bound to dangerous and unacceptable working conditions, as well as for the fact that the sustained suppression of forced or compulsory labour also contributes to ensuring fair competition. The Protocol and Recommendation thereby establish a common framework, strategy and a set of measures which can effectively eliminate all forms of forced labour and human trafficking. The Employers therefore voted with an overwhelming majority for the adoption of the Protocol and the Recommendation”).

67 See NORMLEX, Ratifications of P029 – Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, (last visited May 25, 2015) (providing the list of countries that have ratified the Protocol).

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