International Labour Organization

Forced labor and child labor — a continued major distortion in international trade for some products

In recent years, the United States has paid more attention to the trade distortions flowing from forced labor and child labor in other countries, particularly in China. While there has been significant progress in the last twenty years in reducing forced labor and child labor globally according to the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), the COVID-19 pandemic has seen some retrenchment and efforts by China to address minorities in country have created an international backlash and concern.

The ILO webpage on forced labor reflects the global nature of the problem. The webpage states in part,

“Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 24.9 million people around the world are still subjected toit. Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 20.8 million (83 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 4.1 million (17 per cent) are in State-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 8 million (29 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 12 million (64 per cent) of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates some US$ 150 billion in illegal profits every year: two thirds of the estimated total (or US$ 99 billion) comes from commercial sexual exploitation, while another US$ 51 billion is a result from forced economic exploitation in domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities (Note 1).

“Vestiges of slavery are still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, in certain areas of the Caribbean and in other parts of the world. In numerous countries, domestic workers are trapped in situations of forced labour, and in many cases they are restrained from leaving the employers’ home through threats or violence. Bonded labour persists in South Asia, where millions of men, women and children are tied to their work through a vicious circle of debt. In Europe and North America, a considerable number of women and children are victims of traffickers, who sell them to networks of forced prostitution or clandestine sweat-shops. Finally, forced labour is still used as a punishment for expressing political views.

“For many governments around the world, the elimination of forced labour remains an important challenge in the 21st century. Not only is forced labour a serious violation of a fundamental human right, it is a leading cause of poverty and a hindrance to economic development. ILO standards on forced labour, associated with well-targeted technical assistance, are the main tools at the international level to combat this scourge.”

ILO, International Labour Standards on Forced labour,–en/index.htm. See also ILO and Walk Free, 2017, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, Forced Labor and Forced Marriage,

Child labor involves more people – an estimated 152 million of which 73 million are involved in hazardous work. See ILO, International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour and Forced Labour (IPEC+),–en/index.htm.

While the incidence of forced labor and child labor is declining, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated trends as these populations are most vulnerable. See, e.g., ILO, The International Labour Organization
and the US Department of Labor partnership to eliminate child labour and forced labour, 2019, (“The ILO’s most recent global estimates of child labour indicate, however, that significant progress is
being made. From 2000 to 2016, there was a net reduction of 94 million children in child labour and
the number of children in hazardous work was halved. In parallel, the ILO Worst Forms of Child
Labour Convention (No. 182) was ratified by 186 countries, reaching almost universal ratification.
The challenges ahead, however, remain formidable: in 2016, 152 million girls and boys were in child
labour and 25 million men, women and children were trapped in forced labour.”); ILO, COVID-19 impact on
child labour and forced labour: The response of the IPEC+ Flagship Programme, 2020,—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_745287.pdf (“COVID-19 has plunged the world into a crisis of unprecedented scope and scale. Undoubtedly, restoring global health remains the first priority, but the strict measures required are resulting in massive economic and social shocks. As lockdown, quarantine, physical distancing and other isolation measures to suppress transmission continue, the global economy has plunged into a recession. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging in the poorest countries and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, such as
children in child labour and victims of forced labour and human trafficking, particularly women and girls.
These vulnerable groups are more affected by income shocks due to the lack of access to social protection,
including health insurance and unemployment benefits. * * * Experience from previous crisis situations, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic, has shown that these factors play a particularly strong role in exacerbating the risk to child labour and forced labour.”).

In China, the government’s efforts to “reeducate” minority populations (e.g., Uyghurs from the western region of Xinjiang) has led to allegations of forced labor on a range of products and actions by the United States to restrict certain imports from China from the region. The Washington International Trade Association is holding a virtual webinar on January 27 looking at the challenges in China and the forced labor problem of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the resulting U.S. ban on cotton and tomato products. See WITA, WITA’s Friday Focus on Trade, Vol. 206, January 22, 2021 (containing various articles on the China forced labor issue and referencing the webinar on January 27, WITA Webinar: The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang).

The U.S. Department of Labor in September released its 2020 list of products believed to be produced in foreign countries with forced labor or with child labor. See USDOL, 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, September 2020, The report provides the following statement of purpose:

“The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL or the Department) has produced this ninth edition of the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), as amended. The TVPRA requires USDOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB or the Bureau) to “develop and make available to the public a list of goods from countries that
[ILAB] has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards” (TVPRA List or the List; 22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(C)). It also requires submission of the TVPRA List to the United States Congress not later than December 1, 2014, and every 2 years thereafter (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(3)).

“The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 expanded ILAB’s mandate to require the TVPRA List to include, ‘to the extent practicable, goods that are produced with inputs that are produced with forced labor or child labor’” (22 U.S.C. 7112(b)(2)(C)).

“The TVPRA directs ILAB ‘to work with persons who are involved in the production of goods on the list … to create a standard set of practices that will reduce the likelihood that such persons will produce goods using [child labor or forced labor],’ and ‘to consult with other departments and agencies of the United States Government to reduce forced and child labor internationally and ensure that products made by forced labor and child labor in violation of international standards are not imported into the United States’ (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(D)–(E)).” (pages 1 and 3).

This year’s publication lists 77 countries that have one or more products believed to be produced with child labor, with forced labor or with both child and forced labor. Fourteen countries are listed as having products believed to be produced with forced labor. Thirty-six countries are listed as believed to produce products with child and forced labor. Sixty-four countries produce some products with child labor. The 77 countries are listed below along with whether products are believed produced with child labor, forced labor, or child labor & forced labor.

Afghanistan — child larbor; child labor & forced labor

Angola — child labor & forced labor

Argentina — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Azerbaijan — child labor

Bangladesh – child labor; child labor & forced labor

Belize — child labor

Benin — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Bolivia — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Brazil — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Burkina Faso — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Burma — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Cambodia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Cameroon — child labor

Central African Republic — child labor

Chad — child labor

China — forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Colombia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Costa Rica — child labor

Cote d’Ivoire — child labor & forced labor

Democratic Republic of the Congo — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Dominican Republic — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Ecuador — child labor

Egypt — child labor

El Salvador — child labor

Eswatini — child labor

Ethiopia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Ghana — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Guatemala — child labor

Guinea — child labor

Honduras — child labor

India — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Indonesia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Iran — child labor

Kazakhstan — child labor & forced labor

Kenya — child labor

Kyrgyz Republic — child labor

Lebanon — child labor

Lesotho — child labor

Liberia — child labor

Madagascar — child labor

Malawi — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Malaysia — forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Mali — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Mauritania — child labor

Mexico — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Mongolia — child labor

Mozambique — child labor

Nepal — child labor & forced labor

Nicaragua — child labor

Niger — child labor; forced labor

Nigeria — child labor; child labor & forced labor

North Korea — forced labor

Pakistan — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Panama — child labor

Paraguay — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Peru — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Philippines — child labor

Russia — forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Rwanda — child labor

Senegal — child labor

Sierra Leone –child labor; child labor & forced labor

South Sudan — child labor & forced labor

Sudan — child labor

Suriname — child labor

Taiwan — forced labor

Tajikistan — child labor & forced labor

Tanzania — child labor

Thailand — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Turkey — child labor

Turkmenistan — child labor & forced labor

Uganda — child labor

Ukraine — child labor

Uzbekistan — forced labor

Venezuela — forced labor

Vietnam — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Yemen — child labor

Zambia — child labor

Zimbabwe — child labor

While the number of products obviously vary by country and category, the report categorized agriculture as having 68 child labor listings and 29 forced labor listings. This compares to manufacturing with 39 child labor and 20 forced labor listings; mining showed 32 child labor and 13 forced labor listings and pornography showed one each.

Looking at specific products for individual countries provides the most information.

As an example, China is shown as having the following products believed to be produced with forced labor — Artificial Flowers, Christmas Decorations, Coal, Fish, Footwear, Garments, Gloves, Hair Products, Nails, Thread/Yarn, and Tomato Products. China is also shown as having the following products believed to be produced with child labor and forced labor — Bricks, Cotton, Electronics, Fireworks, Textiles, and Toys. As a USDOL separate post notes, gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn and tomato products were added in 2020 because of research on the forced labor situation in Xinjiang. See USDOL, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Against Their Will: The Situation in Xinjiang, Forced Labor in Xinjiang, 2020, The document is embedded below.


Looking at India, products believed to be produced with child labor include the following — Bidis (hand-rolled
cigarettes), Brassware, Cotton, Fireworks, Footwear, Gems, Glass Bangles, Incense (agarbatti), Leather Goods/
Accessories, Locks, Matches, Mica, Silk Fabric, Silk Thread, Soccer Balls, Sugarcane, Thread/Yarn. Products believed produced with child labor & forced labor include the following — Bricks, Carpets, Cottonseed (hybrid), Embellished Textiles, Garments, Rice, Sandstone, Stones.

While the USDOL reports don’t estimate the portion of exports from any country of individual products that are produced with child and/or forced labor, the trade consequences can be significant as such labor is artificially valued creating distortions in competitiveness and resulting trade flows. For example, the list of products for China are either important export products for China or important inputs into exported products. The same would true for India and for many other of the 77 countries on the list.


The U.S. has in place statutory provisions which permit the exclusion from entry into the United states of products produced with forced labor. The Trump Administration did a somewhat better job enforcing U.S. law on imports of products produced with child or forced labor. Much more can be done and should be done domestically.

Similarly, the ILO is working to eliminate forced labor and child labor consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goals. “The objective of the IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme – in line with Target 8.7 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by the United Nations in 2015 – is to provide ILO leadership in global efforts to eradicate all forms of child labour by 2025 and all forms of contemporary slavery and human trafficking by 2030. It also aims to ensure that all people are protected from – and can protect themselves against – these gross human rights violations.” ILO, IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme Implementation, Towards a world free from child labour and forced labour, page 4, 2020,

The WTO could play a role in the fight against forced labor and child labor. Such labor practices distort global trade flows in addition to the challenges created for countries engaged in such practices in terms of poverty and human rights abuses. The WTO could gather information from Members on the volume of production and exports of products produced with child and forced labor both as finished products and as inputs into other products. Such an exercise would facilitate an understanding of the extent of global trade represented by such products and help focus attention on trade actions that could be taken to help Members eliminate such harmful practices. While it is unlikely that Members will agree to such a data gathering undertaking, one is surely needed and would add transparency to a source of an important global issue with trade as well as non-trade dimensions.

COVID-19 pandemic — loss of work in first half of 2020 and projections for remainder of the year

The International Labour Organization (ILO) puts out the “ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work”. The most recent edition (fifth) is dated 30 June 2020. See—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_749399.pdf. The OECD also puts out an annual OECD Employment Outlook. The 2020 publication covers data through May 2020. OECD(2020), OECD Employment Outlook 2020: Worker Security and the COVID-19 Crisis, OECD Publishing, Paris, For purposes of this post, I am limiting my review to the ILO Monitor.

The ILO Monitor shows the loss of working hours by quarter in the first half of 2020 both globally and by region and provides estimates of work loss in the second half of the year using a baseline scenario based on the OECD June Economic Outlook and an optimistic scenario and a pessimistic scenario. The ILO Monitor stresses the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women. The hours of work lost are translated into number of job equivalents using a 40 hour work week and a 48 hour work week. The figures are staggering in terms of equivalent job losses as laid out in the following table (using 48 hour work week)(taken from Table 1 on page 6):

REGION2020 1ST QTR employment loss (millions)% hours lost2020 2ND QTR employment loss (millions)% hours lost
Arab States23.1813.2
Asia and the Pacific1257.123513.5
Europe and Central Asia113.44513.9

Looking at the fourth quarter of 2020, depending on whether there is a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a faster than expected recovery or the baseline projection, the number of job equivalents lost are estimated at 140 million jobs using the baseline, 34 million jobs using the optimistic scenario and 340 million jobs using the pessimistic scenario.

Working through the data in the ILO Monitor shows a greater impact on women from the economic contraction flowing from the pandemic. Earlier Monitors had looked at the impact on informal workers and on young workers, groups also disproportionately adversely affected. The Fifth Edition identifies four main ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting women workers:

“First, a large proportion of women work in sectors severely affected by the crisis.” (page 8)

“Second, women in domestic work have been highly vulnerable to containment measures.” (page 9)

“Thirdly, the overwhelming majority of workers in the health and social work sector are women.” (Page 9)

“Fourthly, during the crisis, the unequal distribution of increased care demands affects women disproportionately.” (Page 9)

The ILO Monitor ends with what are viewed as the Key challenges ahead (pages 15-16):

“Key challenges ahead

“Despite the extraordinary and often unprecedented measures introduced around the world, the damage done by the COVID-19 crisis to labour markets is enormous and leaves policymakers to confront major policy challenges. Actual labour market outcomes for the rest of 2020 and beyond will depend on the choices they make, as well as on the pandemic’s future
trajectory. Moreover, the decisions taken in the near future are likely to have long-lasting implications for the world of work.

“Countries will not all face the same situation. The gravity of the issues they must resolve and the tools and resources that they can bring to the task will vary considerably. But a number of key challenges will have to be addressed by most, if not all, of them.

First, finding the right balance and sequence of health and economic and social policy interventions to produce optimal sustainable labour market outcomes. From the onset of the pandemic, priority has had to be given, with varying degrees of success, to containing and eliminating the spread of the virus. While this has had major economic and social costs, it is the necessary precondition for sustainable recovery. Nevertheless, policymakers are increasingly called upon to make tough calls about the timing of the reopening of workplaces, the health protocols to be observed in them, and the continuation, or not, of support to enterprises and workers that are unable to resume normal activities. Such decisions are made all the more difficult by the costs to the State and to private actors of the prolongation of restrictions, the concern that premature action could precipitate a second wave of the pandemic, and the increasing pressure of public opinion.

Secondly, implementing and sustaining policy interventions on the necessary scale at a time when resources are increasingly constrained.
General acknowledgement of the need to do ‘whatever it takes’ to sustain economic activity, jobs, enterprises and incomes in the course of the pandemic has led governments to set aside prior fiscal and monetary targets.
Many countries will be faced with high levels of debt and highly constrained monetary policy options even if the pandemic recedes in the coming months. The lasting damage inflicted on labour markets, and the difficult global economic conditions that will prevail, indicate that supportive policies would need to be maintained to sustain
recovery, but this will be in a context of unprecedented fiscal and monetary conditions. Premature fiscal consolidation, such as that which followed the financial crisis of 2008–09, would risk destabilizing already weak labour markets.

Thirdly, supporting vulnerable and hard-hit groups, and generating fairer labour market outcomes. The pandemic has laid bare some of the worst deficits and inequities of the world of work and made them worse. Women, young people and informal workers were all severely disadvantaged before the onset of the crisis, and they are among those who have suffered some of its most severe consequences. Similarly, public
opinion has been awakened to the often difficult and undervalued work of groups of the labour force – notably health and care workers, cleaners and
domestic workers – whose contribution has been, and remains, essential to overcoming the pandemic. Unless explicit attention is paid to improving the position of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, the recovery processes could aggravate existing injustices.

Fourthly, securing international solidarity and support especially for emerging and developing countries. Whatever the achievements of countries individually, the overall response to the global COVID-19 crisis has been characterized by a marked deficit of international cooperation. The evidence presented in this edition of the ILO Monitor shows that the enormous volume of resources deployed by high income countries to combat the pandemic has simply not been available to others. This has a major impact on the capacity of developing and emerging countries to protect their citizens and curb the pandemic, which, in turn, will impair the prospects for all countries. The rhetoric of the need for a global response to the global crisis of COVID-19 needs to be translated into concrete measures to assist countries with limited fiscal space, in particular through multi- lateral action to deliver concessional finance and debt relief.

Fifthly, strengthening social dialogue and respect for rights at work. In many cases, social dialogue – bringing together governments, employers and workers – has proved its worth in shaping effective, balanced and acceptable policy responses at the sectoral and national level. Social dialogue can likewise help to shape sustainable recovery paths in the period ahead. People in most countries have been subject to far-reaching restrictions on their personal freedoms during the pandemic, which has generally been considered necessary and legitimate. However, such acceptance depends on them being proportionate, appropriate and limited in time. The COVID-19 pandemic provides no justification for any restrictions on fundamental rights at work, as enshrined in international labour standards, and upholding these rights fully is a precondition for effective social dialogue.”

The Fifth edition of the ILO Monitor is embedded below.



The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a global health crisis. Much of the focus on the economic consequences of countries’ efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus focus on the contraction of trade, contraction of GDP and the trillions of dollars that have been pumped into economies to reduce the negative economic effects. But the toll on workers has obviously been enormous. The ILO Monitor provides some easy to understand tables on the sweeping labor consequences and the challenges to recovery and fair treatment to those most adversely affected.