Week 8: Modern Day Slavery & Workers’ Rights

Date: 09/03/2018     By: Justice For All


This post is part of 10 Weeks of Action: Demanding funding and protection for grassroots justice defenders by calling on our community to sign the #JusticeForAll petition. Each week, we will spotlight how access to justice is critical to the advancement of different thematic issues.

Trafficking in persons and forced labour, also known as modern slavery, remain some of the biggest global challenges in addressing global inequality and upholding human rights.

At any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were in modern slavery, including 24.9 million who were forced to work under threat or coercion. (Source) Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture, 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry and 58% in other sectors (Source). Additionally, 1 out of every 4 victims of modern slavery is a child. (Source

For others, work is not taken under threat or coercion, yet they are still at risk of being exploited and abused. According to the International Labour Organization, 60% of the world’s workforce is employed in the informal economy, leaving workers vulnerable to abuse by authority figures without any recourse for action. (Source) Additionally, the ILO estimates that there are roughly 150 million migrant workers in the world today, making labour migration one of the planet’s most urgent justice challenges. (Source)

Grassroots justice defenders work with communities to help them understand and access their rights to work, fair payment, equal treatment, and human rights.

Unfortunately, the work of grassroots justice defenders is at risk, as funding remains scarce and is declining, and the justice defenders themselves face threats, harassment, or worse for the work they do. Tell governments it’s time to fund and protect grassroots justice defenders like those working to address issues of trafficking, forced labour, and workers’ rights around the world.


Sign the Petition

Tell world leaders to fund and protect justice defenders.

We, the world’s justice defenders and citizens, call on world leaders to keep their promise, made at the United Nations, to ensure all people have equal access to justice. Only by funding and protecting grassroots justice defenders can we make justice, not injustice, the norm. The moment is now. It is time to tip the scales towards #JusticeForAll.

The number of signatures will be shared with governments during the UN General Assembly in September 2018.



The facts

  • An estimated 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016. (Source)
  • 24.9 million people in 2016 were forced to work under threat or coercion as domestic workers, on construction sites, in clandestine factories, farms, fishing boats, in other sectors, and in the sex industry. They were forced to work by private individuals and groups or by state authorities.
  • Women and girls account for 71% of the overall total number of victims of forced labour.
  • One in four victims of modern slavery is a child. There are an estimated 10.1 million child labourers in India alone.
  • According to the ILO, more than 60% of the world’s workforce is employed in the informal economy.
  • Nearly 78% of agricultural workers in the United States are migrant workers from Mexico and Central America. (Source)
  • In Vietnam, 3,000 people, most of them women and children, were trafficked between 2012 and 2017. (Source)
  • In 2017, over 100 human rights and justice defenders were killed in Colombia, many of whom were union organisers. (Source)
  • 66% of Kuwait’s population is made up of migrant workers, who traveled from South and South-East Asia to work in construction or as domestic workers. (Source)


How justice defenders are tackling the issue

  • Kav LaOved is an Israeli organization committed to the defense of workers’ rights and the enforcement of Israeli labour law, designed to protect every worker in Israel, irrespective of nationality, religion, gender and legal status. KLO aspires to prevent the abuse and exploitation of workers by demanding fair employment terms and conditions, addressing both individual cases and the systemic violations of workers’ rights. To fulfill those goals, KLO runs public education campaigns to raise awareness of workers’ rights through research, reports, workshops, flyers, and lectures to workers, lawyers, officials, and other stakeholders. The organization also provides individual assistance to workers in person, over the internet, via a telephone hotline, and on field visits. Read more here.
  • Nearly 78% of agricultural workers in the United States are migrant workers from Mexico and Central America. Despite be a critical component of the American good industry, these workers are consistently among the country’s lowest paid, least protected, and unhealthy across the country. These workers are often excluded from the laws that protect their workers, have no rights for overtime pay, are not entitled to receive a minimum wage, and the minimum working age is 12 years old. Many of these workers are undocumented, making them vulnerable to threats of deportation, and disempowered to exercise their rights are workers. The Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice uses legal tools and public campaigns to secure justice for migrant agricultural workers in Ohio and North Carolina. By combining traditional legal training and support for lawsuits with research, corporate campaigning, collective bargaining, and public actions, CMWJ has been able to create pressure for vital long-term change.
  • 66% of Kuwait’s population is made up of migrant workers, who traveled from South and South-East Asia to work in construction or as domestic workers. These workers are vulnerable to abuse, especially since their legal status is tied to their employer, who, 95% of the time will take away their passports. Even where laws are in place to protect migrant workers, many are unable to exercise their rights because of lack of information or an ability to claim them. Project 189  works to protect, promote and improve the rights of migrant workers in Kuwait through awareness campaigns, trainings for migrant workers, legal advice, and pro-bono legal representation in court. To-date they have offered legal advice to at least 200 migrant workers and helped free victims of trafficking and exploitation. The organization also works directly with recruitment agencies and employers to change the status-quo on workers rights for these communities. 
  • Colombia is Latin America’s biggest palm oil producer, leading to major negative impacts on the biodiversity of the environment and the displacement of communities and livelihoods. The palm oil industry itself also poses risks for its workers, as the work is physically demanding and often dangerous. Workers often face intimidation and retribution when they organise to advocate for workers rights. In 2017, in fact, over 100 human rights and justice defenders were killed throughout the country, many of whom were union organisers themselves. Corporación Justicia y Libertad is an organization that uses legal empowerment approaches to fight for workers’ rights in the Magdelena Medio region of the country, where conflict and lack of access to justice for human rights abuses go hand-in-hand. They work with palm oil workers to formalise labour relations, ensure pension rights and sick pay, and create a mechanism for peaceful resolution of conflict. To date, they have formalised these processes for nearly 1500 palm oil workers across the region, providing individuals and communities with the skills to have power again large companies.
  • Asylum Access directly empowers refugees to assert their legal rights to employment, free movement, financial access and equal protection under the law. It also advocates directly with governments to change laws so that refugees can move freely, work lawfully, provide for their families and contribute to their host societies.

Additional resources