The Forced Labour Convention, dating from 1930, is one of the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which is now a UN agency. The convention has been ratified by the bulk of the world’s nations (although notably, not by The United States). The convention does an admirable job of limiting the use of forced or compulsory labour and how those forced to work against their will are to be treated. There is, however, one glaring flaw in the convention. Article 11 of the Convention states:

Only adult able-bodied males who are of an apparent age of not less than 18 and not more than 45 years may be called upon for forced or compulsory labour.

The international community regards as acceptable the imposition of forced or compulsory labour on able-bodied adult men while excluding women from the same treatment. Although this was only intended to be a transitional phase before the complete abolition of forced or compulsory labour, it is still true today.

Article 10 and Article 14 allow for some forms of forced or compulsory labour to require payment in cash, but others do not. Thus, some forms of permitted forced or compulsory labour are in fact slavery. The convention allows a competent authority the right to use men for labour against their will without violating the principal international convention intended to suppress this very practice.

It’s time for this gendered convention to be revised so that men are given the same right to protection from forced or compulsory labour that women are given.

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