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Some 1.2 million foreign workers — mostly poor Asians from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines — make up 94 percent of the labor force in Qatar … nearly five foreign workers for each Qatari citizen. … a worker cannot change jobs, leave the country, get a driver’s license, rent a home or open a checking account without the permission of his or her employer-sponsor, or kafeel. It’s not just housemaids and other low-skilled workers who are the victims. An Arab-American businessman, Nasser Beydoun, said he spent 685 days as an “economic hostage” in Doha. (source)
And that’s just one country.
There are difference types of forced labor, including debt bondage, trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The victims are often women and girls forced into prostitution, migrants trapped by so-called debt (owed to those who have arranged their often illegal entry), and sweatshop or farm workers forced to work by clearly illegal tactics and paid little or nothing. State-imposed forced labor also occurs, for example in prison camps.
A lot of forced labor is related to migration: workers seeking employment abroad often find that upon arrival their passports are taken away from them and they are forced to stay and work in order to pay off their debt, meaning the money they owe for transportation, accommodation and food. International sex trafficking is similar: this often involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to transport unwilling victims into sexual exploitation. Many women start their journey voluntarily, and some even intend to work in the sex industry abroad, but upon arrival they are forced into practices that are coercive and inhuman. Again, traffickers steal the women’s passports and exploit their status of illegal immigrants to force them into unpaid prostitution.
It’s incredibly hard to have good numbers on any type of forced labor since you want to exclude willing sex workers who are simply traveling in search of a better income, sweatshop laborers whose alternatives are even more harmful, etc. How do you know which prostitute is willing and which isn’t? Also, given the often illegal nature of forced labor, numbers depend on law enforcement, which is always tricky since conviction rates for any crime are less than 100%, often a lot less. Hence the wide variety of estimates.
The United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there are over 20 million forced laborers worldwide. By type of forced labor:
It’s mainly an Asian problem it seems:
The US State Department, on the other hand, puts the number a lot higher and estimates that, globally, there are up to 27 million victims of human trafficking. It defines human trafficking, much like the ILO, as the forced performance of a commercial sex act and as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
It’s estimated that 10,000 sex slaves are brought into the U.S. annually, but that number could be wrong (source). Usually, these numbers are extrapolated on the basis of the numbers of known cases, i.e. cases that have ended up with the police or in court. As victims of sex trafficking are particularly well hidden (it’s a type of crime that’s vastly underreported since the victims are under total control by their bosses) you need to multiply the known cases by a certain number, but that number is by definition a very rough guess.
Similar caveats are valid for estimates of the numbers of victim of other types of forced labor. More here.
There’s an interesting database here.