By  on May 13, 2009

GENEVA — Widespread abuse and forced labor practices, including the textile and apparel sector, is costing millions of exploited workers worldwide $20 billion in lost earnings, according to a report by the International Labor Organization.

The report released Tuesday, titled “The Cost of Coercion,” said there are growing allegations that forced labor is penetrating the supply chain of major mainstream industries from their outsourced operations.

“It causes untold human suffering and steals from its victims,” said ILO director general Juan Somavia, noting that the practice can be eradicated if there is sustained commitment by governments, employers, workers and civil groups.

Forced labor is defined as trafficking and labor exploitation, slavery and slaverylike practices and debt bondage.

“There are increasing pressures to identify the specific goods that are, or may be, produced under forced labor conditions,” Somavia said.

Roger Plant, head of the ILO’s special action program to combat forced labor, told reporters that about 40 to 50 percent of the world’s estimated 12.3 million forced laborers are children. The exploitation is particularly serious in the textile and apparel industry and in nonmodern agriculture, he said.

The report said there are long-standing concerns about small apparel factories of South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan that are likely to include “deeply embedded practices of bonded labor.”

Cases of abuse in Argentina have been brought to the attention of ILO oversight bodies, the study said. They involve trafficking of Bolivian men, along with their families, for labor exploitation in apparel factories in many provinces.

“Coercive mechanisms have included the removal of identity documents, locking workers in factory premises and compelling them to work up to 17 hours per day,” the report said.

ILO experts said Asian migrant workers from Bangladesh and other poor nations also have been subjected to forced labor and trafficking in apparel export zones in Jordan and Malaysia. There also have been documented cases of exploitation of Chinese migrants in textile production in France and Italy, ILO officials noted.

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