Upwards of 20.9 million people worldwide work in forced labor, the International Labour Organization (ILO) [official website], a UN agency focusing on labor rights, redported [text, PDF] Friday. The ILO's estimate of about 21 million people in forced labor is a revision from its 2005 "minimum estimate" that 12.3 million people were victims of forced labor. The ILO describes people in forced labor as being "trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave." The ILO's report indicates that women represent 55 percent of forced laborers worldwide and that 90 percent of forced laborers are in the private sector. Forced labor is most prevalent in East Asia, which represents 56 percent of the global population of forced laborers. While East Asia accounts for the largest number of forced laborers, the prevalence rate of forced labor is highest in Africa and southeastern Europe. The ILO estimates that three in every 1,000 people worldwide are in some form of forced labor.
Forced labor has been at the center of human rights controversies recently. In November, the human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] declared [JURIST report] that soldiers in Myanmar may be committing war crimes, including forced labor, against ethnic communities. Earlier that month, the UN criticized North Korea for allegedly abusing political prisoners in forced labor camps [JURIST report]. In August, the UN urged Thailand to combat forced labor [JURIST report], especially with regard to human trafficking. During the same month, BBC reported [JURIST report] that the government of Zimbabwe are running illegal mining camps using forced labor.