Swiss press for action on forced labour

Forced labour is one of the issues being addressed at the conference Keystone

Switzerland is to push for greater global commitment to abolish forced labour at the annual conference of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO).

This content was published on May 31, 2005 minutes

The Swiss also intend to use the two-week session to highlight the desperate situation of workers in the Palestinian territories and rising youth unemployment.

A recent ILO study stated that 12.3 million people were trapped in forced labour around the world. Of these, at least a fifth were said to be victims of human trafficking.

ILO director-general Juan Somavia has called the practice "a social evil which has no place in the world".

"Switzerland is extremely concerned by the fact that 40 to 50 per cent of forced labourers are children," said Jean-Luc Nordmann, head of the labour division at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco).

Nordmann, who is leading the Swiss delegation, pointed out that 75 per cent of forced labourers in industrialised and transition countries, North Africa and the Middle East were the victims of human trafficking.

Strong pressure

Switzerland welcomed ILO efforts in recent years to tackle the problem but insisted that strong pressure was needed from the international community to prevent exploitation.

It is backing ILO calls for a global alliance against forced labour and human trafficking involving governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations, development agencies and financial institutions.

The Swiss delegation also plans to raise concerns about conditions for workers in Israel's occupied territories where the ILO says unemployment is running at close to 26 per cent.

The situation is even worse for young people, with more than half of those aged 25-29 out of work.

"Idleness among young people faced with military occupation makes a fertile breeding ground for extremism and violence," warned the ILO in a recent report.

Youth unemployment

On the issue of youth unemployment, which has been making the headlines in Switzerland and has led to the creation of a government task force, Nordmann said the Swiss would be outlining action taken to alleviate the problem at home.

Last year the jobless rate among 15-24 year olds rose to 5.1 per cent, against a national average of 3.9 per cent.

"Taking into account the diversity of professional-training systems and labour markets around the world, Switzerland does not think it necessary to establish new [international] standards. National legislation and action are a more effective response," said Nordmann.

At a separate event in Bern on Tuesday, Economics Minister Joseph Deiss said better and earlier career advice would help alleviate unemployment among Swiss youths.

He added that keeping young people out of unemployment and off the streets required more than timely careers advice - it needed committed parents, good schooling and closer cooperation between teachers and those offering apprenticeships.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Key facts

The 93rd International Labour Conference runs in Geneva from May 31 to June 16.
Themes include youth unemployment, health and safety at work, and work in the fishing sector.
4,000 worker, employer and government representatives from the ILO’s 178 member states are due to attend.

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