Different countries and organizations use different terminologies to describe modern slavery. Even the term “slavery” itself and concepts related to migration and labour rights, such as human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and exploitation of children, differ.

We adhere to the definitions from international treaties. Understanding the terms is crucial in identifying and addressing the needs of the communities, constructing advocacy policies and project methodologies. Please find the definitions below in alphabetical order.

Acceptance and Approval

The international act so named whereby a State establishes on the international plane its consent to be bound by a treaty.

According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (adopted 23 May 1969, entered into force 27 January 1980), “The instruments of ‘acceptance’ or ‘approval’ of a treaty have the same (meaning and) legal effects as ratification and consequently express the consent of a state to be bound by a treaty”.


In 2009, Amnesty International defined this term as an alternative to detention consisting in the deposit of a sum of money to guarantee an individual’s future compliance with immigration procedures, including appearing at future hearings or compliance with a deportation order. The sum of money is returned if the individual appears, or it is otherwise forfeited.

Brain Circulation 

The effect of the movement of skilled migrants among their countries of origin and other countries, bearing their knowledge and skills which can benefit countries of origin as well as countries of permanent or temporary destination. The exchange of knowledge and skills of migrants with communities and institutions in their country of origin and destination that allow migrants to apply the benefits of the knowledge and skills they have gained while living and working abroad.

Climate Migration

The movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border.

Climate migration is a subcategory of environmental migration; it defines a singular type of environmental migration, where the change in the environment is due to climate change. Migration in this context can be associated with greater vulnerability of affected people, particularly if it is forced. Yet, migration can also be a form of adaptation to environmental stressors, helping to build resilience of affected individuals and communities.

Debt Bondage

The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery (Article 1(a) ) defines debt bondage as “the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined”. Debt bondage is a condition whereby the individual acknowledges the work as a means of repayment of debt.

Debt bondage is a status or condition, where one person has pledged labour or service as for the repayment of a debt or other obligation, in circumstances where the terms, such as length and nature of the service not limited or defined hus the debt or length of debt is not being reduced.


In international humanitarian law, deportation refers to the forced displacement of civilians which is prohibited in times of occupation and non-international armed conflict except when required for their security or imperative military reasons.

Documented Migrant Worker 

A migrant worker or members of his or her family authorized to enter, to stay and to engage in a remunerated activity in the State of employment pursuant to the law of that State and to international agreements to which that State is a party.

Family Reunification

The right of non-nationals to enter into and reside in a country where their members reside lawfully or of which they have the nationality in order to preserve the family unit.

Forced Labour

Forced labour is defined in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Forced Labour 1930 (No. 29) as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” This definition excludes compulsory military service, normal civil obligations, penalties imposed by a court action taken in an emergency, and minor communal services.

Forced Labour

Forced labour is defined in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Forced Labour 1930 (No. 29) as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” This definition excludes compulsory military service, normal civil obligations, penalties imposed by a court action taken in an emergency, and minor communal services.

Forced or Servile Marriage

Forced and early marriages are serious human rights violations affecting both genders. Yet, in the vast majority of cases female children, girls and women are the main victims. The 1956 Slavery Convention defines following practices as forced marriage:

  • A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a
    consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person
    or group; or
  • The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another
    person for value received or otherwise; or
  • A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person.

This definition has been updated in 2006 by the United-Nations Secretary-General who noted that “a forced marriage is one lacking the free and valid consent of at least one of the parties.” Forced marriage therefore refers to any situation where a marriage takes place without the free or valid consent of one or both of the partners, regardless of their age, and involves either physical or emotional distress, as noted in the Joint General Recommendation No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Early marriage, particularly those involving children under the age of 16 years, is related to forced marriage because minors are deemed incapable of giving informed consent. It is important to note that many countries allow 16 and 17-year-old girls and boys, who wish to get married, to wed with parental consent or a judicial ruling .

Freedom of Movement

According to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 40 of the Cambodian Constitution states that “Freedom of movement, far and near, and freedom of establish a home in a legal manner shall be respected [and that] citizens of Cambodia may travel and settle abroad or return to their country.”

Human Smuggling

According to the UNODC, the smuggling of migrants is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident. Migrant smuggling affects almost every country in the world. It undermines the integrity of countries and communities, and costs thousands of people their lives every year. UNODC, as the guardian the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Organized Crime Convention) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol).

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is defined in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, known as well as one of the 3 Palermo Protocols supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, ratified by 173 nations so far.

It involves three steps:
  1. Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons;
  2. By means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person;
  3. With the intent of exploiting that person through: prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery (or similar practices), servitude, and removal of organs.

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve threat, use of force, or coercion.

Irregular Migration 

Although a universally accepted definition of irregular migration does not exist, the term is generally used to identify the movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the State of origin, transit or destination. According to the “Glossary of Migration”, published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), categories of migrants who may not have any other choice but to use irregular migration channels can also include refugees, victims of trafficking, or unaccompanied migrant children.

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) 

A document that records the details of an agreement between two companies or organizations (or countries), which has not yet been legally approved.

Thailand and Cambodia signed a MoU in 2003 and another revision in 2015 to bring regular Cambodian migrant workers to Thailand.


There is no internationally agreed upon definition of the term “migrant”, so the way in how migrants are defined varies substantially across UN Member States.

IOM defines a migrant as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of the person’s legal status; whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; what the causes for the movement are; or what the length of the stay is.


The movement of persons away from their place of usual residence, either across an international border or within a State.


A refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

The term is defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which outlines also the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.

The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law. In addition to the refugee definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention defines a refugee as any person compelled to leave his or her country “owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country or origin or nationality”. Similarly, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration states that refugees also include persons who flee their country “because their lives, security or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.


The personal right of a prisoner of war, civil detainee, refugee, or of a civilian to return to his/her country of nationality under specific conditions laid down in various international instruments. This definition of repatriation was adapted from A. de Zayas, “Repatriationin R. Wolfrum (ed),” The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law.


In 1956, the UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery considered ‘modern slavery’ practices such as debt bondage and serfdom to be:

Serfdom: “the condition or status of a tenant who is by law, custom or agreement bound to live and labour on land belonging to another person and to render some determinate service to such other person, whether for reward or not, and is not free to change his status.”

Slavery and Slavery-Like Practices

Slavery is defined in the 1926 Slavery Convention also known as “Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery” as the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised. In 1953 The Slavery Convention was updated by a Protocol further amended in 1956 in a Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery defining ‘slavery-like practices’ including: debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children (including in armed conflict), serfdom and descent-based slavery. The Slavery Convention from 1926 also calls for prevention and suppression of slave trade and progressive and complete abolition of slavery in all its forms.

Sustainable Reintegration

In the context of international return migration, reintegration can be considered sustainable when returnees have reached levels of economic self-sufficiency, social stability within their communities, and psychosocial well-being that allow them to cope with possible (re)migration drivers.

Sustainable reintegration implies that returning migrants are able to make further migration decisions a matter of choice, rather than necessity.


According to the IOM glossary, an endorsement by the competent authorities of a State in a passport or a certificate of identity of a non-national who wishes to enter, leave, or transit through the territory of the State that indicates that the authority, at the time of issuance, considers the holder to fall within a category of non-nationals who can enter, leave or transit the State under the State’s laws. A visa establishes the criteria of admission into, transit through or exit from a State.

The visa requirements of an individual’s travel outside his or her country will depend on the agreements between the State of whom he or she is a passport holder and its international agreements with the transit and destination States. The types of visas that are issued vary from State to State, and may have differing labels, but generally include: student visa, tourist visa, workers visa, marriage visa, visitor visa, business travel visa, and medical visa. International practice is moving towards issuance of machinereadable visas which comply with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, printed on labels with security features.

Voluntary Repatriation

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), voluntary repatriation is the return to the country of origin based on the refugees’ free and informed decision. Voluntary repatriation may be organized, (i.e. when it takes place under the auspices of the concerned governments and UNHCR), or spontaneous (i.e. the refugees return by their own means with UNHCR and governments having little or no direct involvement in the process of return).

Work Permit 

A legal document issued by a competent authority of a State authorizing a migrant worker to be employed in the country of destination during the period of validity of the permit. In some immigration systems, work permits can initially take the form of visas, allowing the holder to work temporarily. These permits are then normally renewed in the form of a work permit prior to expiration. In some cases, a residence permit also allows the person to work without requiring a separate work permit.

Worst Forms of Child Labour

Drawing on the 1999 International Labour Conference Convention No.182, concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the term “worst forms of child labour” comprises:

  • All types of slavery or slavery-like practices, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom or any other type of forced labour, including using children in war and armed conflict;
  • All activities which sexually exploit children, such as prostitution, pornography or pornographic performances;
  • Involvement of children in illegal activities, in particular for the production or trafficking of drugs;
  • Work which could damage the health, safety or well-being of children (so called “hazardous work”).


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