Data Science Forges Alliance


Gemma Bray

During the opening speech of the recent 329th Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Guy Ryder, the Director General of the ILO commented ‘without better data, neither the ILO nor its member states can make better policy’. Data is an area which although fundamental to the work of such global agencies, is often overlooked in favour of the policies which come from it.

The ILO is a specialist agency of the United Nations (UN) which was formed to promote global labour rights. The ILO carries out research on a number of areas such as global wages and income, occupational health and safety and labour market trends.

In 2015, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by more than 150 world leaders. This agenda consists of 17 goals which are designed to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change.  A goal which aligns specifically with that of the ILO is Goal 8, which aims to ‘Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth,’ …. ‘employment and decent work for all’.

A key area of this goal is to eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking and eliminate child labour by 2025, specifically including the recruitment and use of child soldiers. In order to tackle this goal the coalition Alliance 8.7 has been formed. This involves representatives from over 40 governments as well as a diverse group of stakeholders associated with the cause.  The main problem faced by Alliance 8.7 is that globally 21 million people are victims of forced labour and the number of children involved in child labour is placed at 168 million.

Between 2005 and 2016, there does not appear to have been a reduction in forced labour or human trafficking. On a slightly more positive note, however, there are signs of headway being made with regards child labour, which has decreased by 33% since 2000 and continues on a downwards trajectory, however not at a rate fast enough to achieve the target of Goal 8. There are however, lessons which can be learned from this success and applied to other issues under the remit of Alliance 8.7.

One of the main ways by which Goal 8 can be achieved is to share knowledge. A number of institutions including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action have conducted research on child and forced labour and produced large volumes of data. This potentially powerful data is often stored in disparate silos, meaning agencies are often unaware of the existence of each other’s work.  Allowing cross-agency access to these datasets would aid the dissemination of this data, improve data collection and capitalise on the strengths of different members of Alliance 8.7.

Sharing information can also allow for a more efficient way of working, any mistakes which may have been made will not be repeated and successes can be shared and capitalised upon. Collaborations may be developed as a result of previously unconnected teams realising they have shared needs, interests or ideas.

It is also sensible to make the most of recent technological advances such as the ability to store large volumes of data in the cloud, multi-model databases and the improved availability of collaborative workspaces in order to accelerate this. It would then be possible to harmonise methods for collecting data, both qualitative and quantitative.  This would not only provide the option for the same data to be used for a variety of different purposes but it would also prevent existing studies from being replicated.

There is a huge amount of potential for the proper use of data to make a difference in achieving the goals of the ILO, specifically Alliance 8.7 and there are signs that this is being recognised at the highest levels and applied to the most important of circumstances.


Gemma Bray is an MSc student in Data Science at the University of Sheffield’s Information School.



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