The International Labour Office’s report, “A global alliance against forced labour” says that nearly 10 million people are exploited through forced labour in the private economy, rather than imposed directly by states.
Of these, the study estimates a minimum of 2.4 million are victims of human trafficking.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called for a global alliance to improve laws and raise awareness of what it calls a “hidden issue”.
It says forced labour is a global problem, in all regions and types of economy.
The largest numbers are in poor Asian countries and Latin America, but there are more than 350,000 cases in the industrialised world.
Four-fifths of forced labour is exacted by private agents and most victims are women and children, the ILO says.
The report provides the first global estimate of the profits generated by the exploitation of trafficked women, children and men – US$32 billion (A$ 41 b) each year, or an average of US$13,000 (A$16,787) for every trafficked forced labourer.
“Forced labour represents the underside of globalisation and denies people their basic rights and dignity,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said.
The report is the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken by an intergovernmental organisation of the facts and underlying causes of contemporary forced labour.
Forced economic exploitation in such sectors as agriculture, construction, brick-making and informal sweatshop manufacturing is generally evenly divided between the sexes.
However, forced commercial sexual exploitation entraps almost entirely women and girls. In addition, children aged less than 18 years bear a heavy burden, comprising 40 to 50 per cent of all forced labour victims.
Approximately one-fifth of all forced labourers globally are trafficked but the proportion varies widely from region to region, the report says.
In Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of trafficked persons is less than 20 per cent of all forced labour, while in industrialised and transition countries and in the Middle East and North Africa, trafficking accounts for more than 75 per cent.
The report pinpoints the globalised economy and deregulated labour markets as creating new problems and issues, in sectors such as the sex industry, agriculture, construction and domestic service.
The ILO calls for better laws and stronger law enforcement to break “a pattern of impunity” in “privately-imposed forced labour”.