Forced labour in the international merchant marine sector in the 21st century: forms, estimates, comparison with forced labour on land

  • Valter Zanin Università di Padova
Keywords: Forced labour; International seafaring sector; forms and estimates of forced labour at sea; comparison with the ILO’s estimates on forced labour.


The article discusses the forms of forced labour in the international merchant marine in the 21st century, estimating the numbers and nationalities of the seafarers subjected to these forms of coercion. The distinctive features of seafaring are contrary to the characteristics of the largest part of forced labour on land: in fact, maritime labour is strategic, productive, highly regulated by States and International Organizations, has very high capital intensity, high salaries and a skilled and internationalised workforce - so much so that the ILO has never mentioned seafarers in its estimates on forced labour and until now only one monograph, published in 2007 by the author of this article, discusses the matter systematically and draws up estimates. This article describes the main forms of forced labour at sea in the 21st century, updating and specifying the estimates presented in 2007. Among other sources, the author analyses the annual reports of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), which monitors the compliance of signatory States’ shipping laws with ILO Convention 105 of 1957 on forced labour. Since the ILO has never even considered the cases reported by CEACR in its estimates of forced labour, the article, which recommends that the methods developed for monitoring work at sea be made more general and applied to work on land, advances criticisms and revisions of the estimates of forced labour in the world produced by the ILO.