Geneva - The west African country of Niger, where there are tens of thousands of modern-day slaves according to unofficial estimates, on Friday became the first country to sign a UN protocol to stamp out the practice.
"This is a historic moment by being the first country to ratify the protocol, Niger has ensured that the protocol is well on the way to entering into force," Guy Ryder, the head of the International Labour Organization said at a ceremony in Geneva.
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"This gives hope to the millions of women, children and men still trapped in modern slavery. I hope that many more countries will soon follow Niger's example."
According to the ILO, there are about 21 million people toiling in slave-like conditions in the modern world.
Niger's employment minister Salissou Ada, added: "This signature is the logical next step in our efforts to fight this plague that is infecting our society."
Niger, which gained independence from France in 1960, adopted legislation in 2002 to outlaw slavery, with strong penalties for anyone convicted of holding slaves.
But a 2008 survey by the country's National Statistics Institute and the ILO found that more than 59,000 adults and children out of a total population of 13 million are victims of forced labour, mostly related to vestiges of slavery and deeply-rooted practices of discrimination.
The convention has to be ratified by at least two countries to come into force.
The ILO aims to get at least 50 countries to ratify the convention on forced labour by 2018.