GENEVA -- The International Labor Organization (ILO) voted decisively today in favor of a new Forced Labor Protocol and Recommendation, bringing an antiquated, 84-year-old Convention into the 21st century.

The Protocol and Recommendation establish a common framework, strategy and measures to suppress and eliminate forced labor. These instruments update ILO forced labor standards to address all forms of modern-day forced labor and human trafficking that results in forced labor. 

“The Protocol and Recommendation mark a major step forward in the fight against forced labor and represent a firm commitment among governments, employer and worker organizations to eliminate contemporary forms of slavery,” said Guy Ryder, ILO director-general. “Forced labor violates the human rights and dignity of millions of women and men, girls and boys. It contributes to the perpetuation of poverty and stands in the way of the achievement of decent work for all.”

There are currently an estimated 21 million forced labor victims worldwide. A recent ILO report estimates that $150 billion in illegal profits are made in the private economy each year through modern forms of slavery.

More than half of the victims of forced labor are women and girls, primarily in domestic work and commercial sexual exploitation. Men and boys are primarily in forced economic exploitation in agriculture, construction and mining.

“Few people have the opportunity to participate in an historic moment in their lifetime. This is such a moment for all of us,” Ed Potter, Coke’s director of global workplace rights and the employer spokesperson on forced labor, told delegates Tuesday during the plenary debate on the Protocol and Recommendation at the annual ILO conference. “This is a humanitarian moment, a human rights moment, and represents what the international business community stands for — respect for human rights.”

Potter, attending his 33rd and final ILO conference, represented the global business community on the committee that developed the Protocol and Recommendation. He was joined by David Garner, Australia’s labor minister-counsellor who also served as the government representative, and Yves Veyrier, committee worker vice chair.

The Protocol and Recommendation represent a call to action to eliminate all forced labor. “They go beyond pious words… they are more than text on a piece of paper,” Potter added. “Their potential impact can only be realized if there is rapid and universal ratification and complete and effective implementation.”

The ILO is the only tripartite United Nations agency, which means all of its actions require engagement by government, employer and worker representatives. Its primary goal is to promote opportunities for and men women to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

The annual ILO conference is the supreme legislature of the ILO. It sets international labor standards on topics such as freedom of association, labor inspection, child labor and nondiscrimination, and holds countries accountable for ratified ILO standards. When an ILO member state ratifies and implements an ILO convention, it becomes an international legal obligation that is binding on the country.

In 1998, Potter was the employer spokesman that negotiated the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which serves as one of the bases for The Coca-Cola Company’s human and workplace rights policies. From 2004 to 2011, he was the employer spokesman on the ILO’s Committee on Application of Standards that holds countries accountable for their international legal obligations resulting from ratification of ILO treaties.