Country Study
33 of 167Prevalence Index Rank


  • 401,000 Estimate number living in Modern Slavery
  • 0.40% Estimate percentage of population living in Modern Slavery
  • 47.67/100 Vulnerability to Modern Slavery
  • BB Government Response Rating
  • 100,699,000 Population
  • $6,969 GDP (PPP)


How many people are in modern slavery in Philippines?

In 2015, the Walk Free Foundation and Gallup conducted a random sample, nationally representative survey to estimate the prevalence of modern slavery in the Philippines. It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 Filipinos in some form of modern slavery, the majority of whom are in forced labour.

Country Findings of Prevalence


Estimate number enslaved

Forced labour - Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)

Modern slavery exists in the Philippines in all its forms, however the issue of forced labour for Filipinos working abroad is a significant concern. The most recent survey on OFWs by the Philippine Statistics Authority suggests that one in every two Filipino women working abroad is unskilled, and employed as a domestic worker, cleaner, or in the service sector.[1] These sectors represent some of the highest industry risks for modern slavery. Walk Free survey data revealed that roughly 69% of those reporting exploitation experienced the abuse within the domestic labour sector. Within those that reported forced labour, 25% reported that it occurred overseas, whereas 75% occurred domestically, suggesting that modern slavery is a serious concern not just for OFWs but also within the Philippines itself.

In 2015-2016, research has revealed that migrant worker exploitation occurs during all phases of labour migration, with many prospective migrants having a lack of knowledge of the processes and their rights resulting in an ease of exploitation.[2] An estimated 10 million Filipinos migrate abroad for work, and many are subjected to human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour throughout Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.[3]

Commercial sexual exploitation

In the Philippines, women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation in brothels, bars, and massage parlours, online, as well as in the production of pornography. The Philippines is an international hub for prostitution and commercial sex tourism – a highly profitable businesses for organised criminal syndicates.[4] The demand for sex with children among both local and foreign men has continued to fuel child sex tourism. Rising internet usage rates, the availability of mobile phones and poverty has fostered online child sexual exploitation.[5] The phenomenon of adults paying for direct live streaming video footage of children performing sexual acts in front of a webcam is evident throughout the Philippines,[6] particularly in Cebu.[7] Though some children perform independently, there are also cases of coercion from pimps in internet cafes or parents at home, and cases of trafficking whereby children are trapped in ‘cyber dens’.[8] In addition to this, the trafficking of women under the guise of marriage for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation continues to persist.[9] Although there is existing literature giving evidence of commercial sexual exploitation, the Walk Free survey did not identify any victims in this sector. Given the sensitivity of the issue, it is very likely that this result reflects a lack of willingness to self-identify or report this issue.

The recruitment and use of child soldiers

The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict persists in the Philippines. The Philippines Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a normalization plan in March 2015, outlining the eventual disbanding of the MILF Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). Despite this, South Mindanao remains very volatile with factional conflict among breakaway gangs, Islamic militants and feuding clans. This presents a persistent risk of children being recruited in armed political groups. The Bangsamoro Basic Law that intends to end the armed conflict between government forces and the MILF and to establish the Bangsamoro political entity was not passed in Congress in February 2016,[10] further prolonging the peace process until the next administration.[11] Within the conflict, groups considered persistent perpetrators of child soldiering include Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), MILF, and the New People’s Army (NPA).[12]

Pa-aling Fishing

In the Philippines, Pa-aling fishermen are subjected to forced labour and exploitation at sea. Pa-aling fishing is a highly dangerous fishing technique in which divers dive into reefs of up to 100ft breathing through a long tube connected to compressed air in order to scare fish out of the coral reef.[13] They are often forced into these situations and lack legal protection.[14] In a recent investigation into Pa-aling fishing, it was found that although Occupational Safety and Health Standards explicitly name deep sea fishing as hazardous work, there are currently no mandated standards for deep sea or any other kind of fishing in the Philippines.[15] The severe limitations in legal protection for fishermen, particular for Pa-aling fishermen, foster potential exploitation within the Filipino fishing industry.

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International


What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery?

The Philippines’ economy has been described as an ailing economy due to its anaemic boom-and-bust economic growth.[16] However, in recent years, the Philippines has benefitted from an expanding economy with a reduction in extreme poverty rates.[17] Despite the implementation of progressive social protection schemes; high rates of structural poverty, steep wealth disparity, high rate of population growth, and limited employment opportunities drive many Filipino workers to migrate abroad, potentially into highly exploitative situations.[18] Filipino OFW’s have been subjected to restrictions in their freedom of movement, false promises of salary and working conditions as well as employers withholding their personal documents and salary payments.[19]

Average Vulnerability Score


CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean

Geographically, the Philippines is situated on an active typhoon belt and on the cuff of shifting tectonic plates, making it susceptible to natural disasters.[20] It’s also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.[21] In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan affected 3.2 million people, displaced 348,507 people, and destroyed homes, hospitals and public infrastructure.[22] The United Nations warned that children in typhoon-affected areas of the Philippines were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.[23] In 2014, human traffickers were intercepted while trafficking five girls from an area affected by Typhoon Haiyan.[24]

In the Philippines, corruption contributes to the risk of modern slavery.[25] There have been reports that government officials have accepted payments or sexual services to facilitate the return of exploited OFW (sex-for-flight schemes), the sexual harassment of victims or attempts to coerce sexual acts in exchange for government protection services.[26] The Philippines government has actively pursued corruption and the rise of social media has also contributed to the promotion of transparency and corruption monitoring.[27] In addition to this, Transparency International ranks the Philippines 95th out of 168 countries for perceptions of corruption levels,[28] which is an improvement from past rankings as low as 105th out of 175 countries in 2012.[29] Despite this, Philippines corruption has stifled foreign investment in the country, remaining a problem at the highest levels of government.[30]

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How are governments tackling modern slavery?

The Philippines Government continues to be a regional leader in victim support and protection, particularly for OFWs. In the Philippines, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) is devoted to coordinating all relevant government agencies to combat modern slavery crimes. In 2015, the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Netherlands to establish a partnership to combat human trafficking,[31] indicating a strong political will in combating transnational modern slavery.

Government Response Rating


For many decades, the Philippines Government has implemented a wide range of mechanisms intended to protect its overseas labour force. In 2013, the Philippines Government increased protection for nationals working abroad through the establishment of multi-agency Filipino workers’ resource centres to assist workers in 36 countries with populations of 20,000 or more Filipino workers.[32] There are currently 18 Filipino Workers Resource Centres (FWRC) overseas to provide support to distressed Filipino workers.[33] OFWs working on job contracts of up to two years in length are required to register with the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and other emigrants register with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Part of registration for those heading abroad includes participation in a Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars (PDOS),[34] which is now available online.[35] In addition to this, the POEA now provide Online Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS) for those who are searching for employment overseas.[36] The POEA and Bureau of Immigration (BI) have a Connectivity Program that enables coordination regarding the issuance and implementation of Overseas Employment Contracts (OEC).[37] In 2015, the BI barred the departure of four Filipino seafarers with fake OEC bound for Singapore.[38]

The Philippines Government has introduced a raft of innovative measures to ensure overseas domestic workers are protected. For example, the employer is required to open an ATM bank account for the hired OFW so that salary payment is recorded and a minimum of $400 USD p/ month is paid.[39] In addition to this, standardised employment contracts that require pre-deployment verification by the Philippine Labour Office and the POEA and holidays are among other protectionary measures.[40] The IACAT coordinates all relevant government agencies in the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of modern slavery victims.[41] In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, exploited domestic maids have accessed FWRC for victim support and vocational training programs.[42]

The Philippines has sought to address issues of children in armed conflict, including drafting child protection legislation and military guidelines that prevent the military use of schools.[43] The Philippines is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. There are also several implemented policies and mechanisms which ensure that children are not recruited or used in armed conflict, including the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, the Memorandum Circular No.13 on Selective Enlistment/ Reenlistment, RA No. 8551 Memorandum Circular No. 2003-2009, Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act of 1991 as well as the reconstitution of the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Armed Conflict (IAC-CIAC).[44] Despite these measures, continuing factional violence threatens to undermine these efforts. In May 2015, an 11-year-old boy surrendered himself to the Philippines Armed Forces, while he was on security patrol with the armed guerrilla faction of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).[45] Existing research suggests that Filipino children who are recruited into these guerrilla units are often from large, impoverished, rural families living in areas with limited economic opportunities and weak government delivery of social services.[46]

Since Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the correlation between disaster zones and human trafficking has been increasingly explored. In the Philippines, a number of policy initiatives have been proposed in Congress to protect children in emergency or crisis situations such as the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act.[47] Within natural disaster situations, people are desperate to look for work, shelter and education which leaves them particularly vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers.[48] International NGOs have expressed their concerns regarding the vulnerability for women and children to be human trafficked in post-calamity situations.[49]

The Philippines’ Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE), through its regional offices, have required licensed private employment agencies (PEA) to submit monthly reports, especially on data on the number of job seekers facilitated for employment.[50] These monthly reports would clearly show that the PEA has facilitated legitimate employment for the job applicants as well as measure compliance and adherence to policy issuances – which is a tool for preventing the occurrence of human trafficking.[51] In addition to this, Region XI has facilitated the passage of two resolutions by the Banana Industry Tripartite Council.[52] This supports the DOLE campaign against trafficking in the banana industry and by District Tripartite Council condemning the child labour in the sugar industry.[53]

There have been joint efforts by the BI and IACAT to rid the agency of corrupt officials. In May 2015, Raymond Pilac, a Bureau of Immigration (BI) officer assigned to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court for his involvement in human trafficking.[54] Pilac violated the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 by assisting the victim to pass through immigration inspection and supplying fraudulent documents.[55] In October 2015, the Department of Justice dismissed two BI officers for their involvement in corruption and facilitating the departure of three human trafficking victims bound for Korea.[56]

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR


What do we recommend


  • Increase efforts to effectively implement the expanded anti-trafficking law at the local level. This includes better cooperation of key government agencies and inter-agency complementation to provide education, undertake awareness raising and support prosecutions.
  • Devote more resources to victim support shelters, with special attention to males.
  • Devote more resources towards preventive efforts and training labour inspectors to detect trafficking situations, particularly in vulnerable male-dominated industries.
  • Immediately push the Draft Bill - Special Protection of Children in Situation of Armed Conflict Act 2011 - through the senate and take required steps to implement the legislative protections for children.
  • Continue to monitor and respond to the use of children in armed conflict.
  • Undertake information campaigns to raise awareness of modern slavery, especially focusing on the youth.
  • Upscale law enforcement efforts to prosecute all forms of modern slavery, especially focusing on the youth.
  • Upscale efforts to ensure that employment conditions of OFWs is monitored and streamlined to ensure access to rights and protection, including full implementation of the central database to track cases of OFW exploitation and integration of this database with other stakeholder agencies.
  • Continue to take steps towards the elimination of corruption, focusing more on corruption in the public and judicial systems.
  • Immediately pass the 'Anti-Mail Order Spouse Law', and 'Family Code' to ensure both foreign nationals and Filipino citizens who use marriage for the purposes of sex trafficking, forced commercial sexual exploitation can be prosecuted, and victims have explicit rights to protection and support to exit the situation
  • Expand the implementation of continuous trials for trafficking violations to expedite the resolution of cases and to increase the likelihood of justice for victims.
  • Develop programs on the implementation of the Domestic Workers Act (Batas Kasambahay) for domestic workers and child labour.


  • Businesses with supplies in high risk industries such as tobacco and sugar cane, should undertake due dilligence measures to identify any forced labour in their supply chains.
  • Ensure supply chain traceability through supply chain mapping exercises and communicating with suppliers beyond the first tier.
  • Develop a multi-sector initiative that includes key government departments, international businesses head quartered or with suppliers in the Philippines to respond to, and eradicate forced and child labour in the agricultural sector, particularly in tobacco, banana and sugar cane farming.
  • Pre-empt and respond to the risk of businesses using forced labour to remain competitive in the increasingly open market by enforcing labour protections and applying sanctions on businesses found to be using forced labour.
  • Implement procedures to ensure the ethical recruitment and treatment of workers within company and subcontractor operations and complete rigorous auditing programs to confirm that all workers are voluntarily working under standard contracts in their native language that they fully understand.