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UN Geneva Press Briefing


Alessandra Vellucci of the United Nations Information Service(UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the, the International Labour Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, and the United Nations Development Programme. 

Profits and Poverty: The economics of forced labour ILO report launch

Zeina Awad, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said the ILO had just released its report on the new estimate of illegal profits generated through forced labour, which was the second edition, with the first being released in 2014. The study had been produced by the Fundamentals branch of the ILO, dedicated to realising the fundamental right to work.

Federico Blanco, Senior Research Officer for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said the study arrived at a critical juncture in the fight against forced labour. The total amount of profits from forced labour in the private sector amounted to US$236 billion annually. These profits were at the heart of the existence of forced labour and represented a major driving force behind the perpetrators of forced labour crimes. The figures represented wages and livelihoods stolen from workers and their families. Shutting off the illegal profit flows was essential to ending the human rights violations. Forced labour profits had surged by 37 per cent since 2014. This was fuelled by an increase in the number of people forced into labour, as well as higher profits generated from each victim. Total annual illegal profits from forced labour were the highest in Europe and Central Asia (US$84 billion), followed by the rest of Asia and the Pacific (US$62 billion) and the Americas (US$52 billion). Forced commercial sexual exploitation accounted for more than two-thirds (73 per cent) of the total illegal profits.

A full summary can be accessed here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Blanco said that only privately imposed forced labour had been considered for this report, rather than State-imposed forced labour. This was due to data limitations. There were close to four million people in a state of imposed labour, and better data was needed. Data on forced labour was an extremely scarce resource which made the task of generating global estimates very difficult. 

Scott Lyon, Senior Policy Officer, for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the study aimed to illustrate sources of underprofit within the labour sector. For example, in some instances in the fishing sector, a share of the payment was controlled by vessel owners, which led to the underpayments of fishers. In construction, documented forms of underpayment included unpaid overtime, or wages which were lower than had been agreed. These were examples of how profits could be generated from workers who found themselves in situations of forced labour. 

Responding to further questions, Mr. Blanco said the issue of begging was very important. Children were usually used by third parties to beg in many areas of the world. This represented a form of child and forced labour. Adults could also be forced to beg. He did not have enough details to answer the question regarding the penitentiary system in the state of Alabama, but could follow up on this. Responding to further questions, Mr. Lyon said the ILO decried instances of forced labour wherever they occurred. The Global Estimates Report, published two years ago, had outlined detailed criteria of State-imposed forced labour. 

Mr. Blanco said different sources of data were used to come up with the estimate, including the global estimate of child labour, which was one of the key estimates upon which the profits were based. It was likely that the total profits from forced labour outlined in the report were underestimated. The US$236 million excluded figures such as recruitment fees and tax evasion. Mr. Lyon said the methodology of the report focused on a basic business model looking at revenues, minus eventual costs, which included the tiny amount of payments which might trickle down to the workers. 

Responding to further questions, Mr. Blanco said the report provided a series of recommendations for governments and stressed the urgent need for investment in enforcement measures, to stem these illegal flows and hold perpetrators responsible. There needed to be a comprehensive policy approach addressing the root causes of forced labour and the protection of victims. The root causes of forced labour included poverty and a lack of access to social protection. When families and individuals were less vulnerable, they were much less likely to become involved in forced labour. For those countries who had not ratified the ILO Convention on forced labour, this would give them the strategic framework necessary to address this.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Lyon said research had been published which looked at the impact of policy approaches to address forced labour. More information was needed but some measures were known to work. These included extending workers access to social protection, and implementing a legislative framework which was consistent with international standards. These areas were effective but needed to be applied.

Responding to questions, Ms. Awad said the ILO expected the unemployment rate in the occupied Palestinian territories to reach 57 percent and estimated that around 507,000 jobs had been lost since the end of January 2024. 

Famine in Gaza

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), referred to the Secretary-General’s response to the latest integrated Food Security Phase classification report. He said that the report's findings on food insecurity in Gaza were an appalling indictment of the conditions on the ground for civilians. More than half of all Palestinians in Gaza, which was 1.1 million people, had completely exhausted their food supplies and were facing catastrophic hunger. According to the report, this was an entirely manmade disaster, said the Secretary-General, and the report made it clear that this could be halted.

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the statement by the High Commissioner, which said the projected imminent famine in Gaza could and must be prevented. The catastrophe was human-made and was entirely preventable. The situation of hunger, starvation and famine was a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure. The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on the entry of aid into Gaza, and the manner it continued to conduct hostilities, could amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which was a war crime. Israel, as the occupying power, had the obligation to ensure the provision of food and medical care to the population commensurate with their needs, and to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations to deliver that assistance. Everyone, especially those with influence, needed to insist that Israel acted to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of humanitarian assistance and commercial goods to end starvation and avert all risk of famine. There also needed to be an immediate ceasefire, as well as the unconditional release of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza.

The full statement can be accessed here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laurence said it was up to a competent court to make any judgment on the genocide aspect. The United Nations would continue to provide relevant information to the courts if requested. The Commission of Enquiry was also investigating incidents which occurred in Israel and Gaza. 

Responding to further questions, Mr. Laurence said both collective punishment and starvation of the civilian population as a method of war, were war crimes. The clear definitive judgement that starvation was being used as a war crime should be left to the competent courts. From October 7, OHCHR had continued to raise serious concerns regarding atrocity crimes. With respect to any atrocity crimes, the Office followed what was happening in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank and raised issues and concerns with how hostilities and actions had been conducted. It was then up to the competent courts to make a ruling. There needed to be a commission of intent applied for something to be considered a war crime. The Office provided information on what was happening on the ground, and this information was shared with the authorities. 

Responding to questions, Ms. Vellucci said 1.1 million people, which was half of Gaza’s population, were experiencing catastrophic food insecurity.

Jens Laerke, for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) data, received yesterday had been reviewed by the famine review committee, a completely independent body of nutrition experts. They confirmed that famine was now projected and imminent in northern Gaza. The second indicator of malnutrition had also been reached. They had been unable to determine the number of people killed by famine, but this was likely to happen. About 210,000 people, which was 70 percent of the population in northern Gaza, were facing famine. These numbers were not the worst-case scenario, but rather the most likely scenario. It was expected that famine threshold was already reached in northern Gaza. People were eating bird seeds, animal fodder and grass; all coping mechanisms had been exhausted. Looking ahead, it could be expected that more than 200 people would die from starvation per day.

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said teams were regularly sending missions to the north when they were permitted. Increasingly, doctors and medical staff were seeing the effects of starvation. WHO were now working to set up stabilization and malnutrition centers in the community. The issue was bringing the materials in. There would be no answer until there was a ceasefire. Gaza needed to be flooded with aid. 

Responding to further questions about journalists taken from Al-Shifa hospital, Mr. Laurence said there were laws of war which needed to be respected. Medical units had special protection. Israel had alleged that Hamas were using some hospitals in violation of international humanitarian law. However, any attack by Israel was still required to comply with cautions and proportionality.

Ms. Vellucci said the deputy spokesperson of the Secretary General had decried the harassment of journalists anywhere in the world, including in relation to this incident.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Laurence said under Article 1 of the …. Convention, States had an obligation to respect and ensure respect for rules laid down by international humanitarian laws. This included taking all available steps to ensure full compliance by parties engaged in hostilities. The determination of genocide was undertaken by a competent court and could take years. The suffering of the people in Gaza was unconscionable and was a collective stain on humanity.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Laerke said he had been working in disasters for 20 years and had rarely seen a situation develop as rapidly as today. OCHA were determined to do everything in their power to stop an imminent famine.

Responding to further questions, Dr. Harris said everything in this situation was entirely man made. Gaza was a territory where the health system had previously functioned well. Nothing being seen today existed before these hostilities began. It could be reversed as of now, if the hostilities stopped. Dr. Harris implored those with military objectives to explain to a child in Gaza why their military objective was more important than their life. 

Racism episode in the United Kingdom

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said his Office was aware of racist behaviour against a child in the United Kingdom, which had been captured on video. It impacted the rights of children to education and to be protected from all forms of violence. In 2023, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had expressed serious concern at the number of racist hate crimes in the UK. 

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reminded journalists of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, marked on 21 March, and recalled the message of the Secretary-General for this important day.

Human Rights Council 

Pascal Sim, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Human Rights Council had just begun its meeting with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, on its latest report. The Deputy High Commissioner was expected to present the latest update on Venezuela, either this morning or this afternoon. This afternoon, the Special Rapporteur would present his latest report on Myanmar and would hold a press conference tomorrow at 1:30pm. 

This afternoon the Council would hear again from the Deputy High Commissioner on the latest reports on Belarus, and hear her oral update on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Starting on Thursday morning, the Council would consider the final reports of the Universal Periodic Review of 14 countries, including Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Cuba. Mr. Sim reminded everyone that Thursday afternoon was the deadline for all delegations who wished to submit a draft resolution at the 55th session. so far there were 29 resolutions which had been announced by member states.

State of the Global Climate

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said WMO would be releasing its State of the Global Climate in 2023 report this afternoon, and a press conference would also be held with the Secretary General and the report’s coordinator. Everything had been sent under embargo, and press releases were available in all languages. On Thursday, March 21, WMO would unveil a new climate action campaign which they had been working on with the United Nations Development Programme. A website was available with all information and journalists were invited to the ceremony at the WMO headquarters. 

World Meteorological Day - new Climate Action campaign

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said UNDP would leverage World Meteorological Day on Thursday 21st March, to launch the new climate action campaign with the WMO. The campaign aimed to create a movement to prompt climate commitment and move the needle to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement alive. Ms. Bel said she would send a press release after the briefing. The exciting event on Thursday would be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and could also be accessed virtually. 



Alessandra Vellucci of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) said this afternoon the Human Rights Committee would review the report of Guyana. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would conclude its 30th session on 22 March. This morning the Conference of Disarmament was holding a public plenary, which was the first under the presidency of Ali Bahraini of Iran. 


The webcast for this briefing is available here:

The audio for this briefing is available here: