No place in the EU for products made by forced labour
More than 25 million people are victims of forced labour around the world, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 71% of these are women and girls and one in four victims are children. Modern slavery continues to be a problem. We cannot look the other way.
Today, the European Parliament is voting on a resolution ensuring no product made using forced labour enters the European market.
A Corporate Human Rights Benchmark report highlights that 90% of automotive companies scored zero when it comes to demonstrating how they manage risks such as forced labour in their supply chains. The same study reveals that only 50% of companies have commitments to ILO core labour standards in the agriculture sector, including freedom from forced labour. This figure is only 45% in the garment sector and 48% for extractives.
The Left has long fought for legislation that will prevent European businesses from profiting from slavery, and products made by forced labour from ending up in our markets and households. Today is a key moment in that fight because:
- the resolution calls for a strong import and export ban on products manufactured or transported by forced labour;
- it applies to companies of all sizes and across all sectors throughout the whole supply chain, with no exceptions;
- it will be the responsibility of importers to show their goods are slavery-free;
- companies should disclose the suppliers, sub-suppliers, contractors and business partners in the supply chain;
- customs authorities should be able to act on the information provided by those close to the ground, such as trade unions, civil society and ILO inspectors;
- it proposes the creation of a public list of sanctioned entities, regions and products;
- companies found liable must provide compensation to affected workers.
During the annual State of the Union speech in 2021, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the block’s intention to introduce a ban on the import of products made using forced labour. However, in an open letter to MEPs in 2021, Valdis Dombrovskis, Trade Commissioner and European Commission vice-president, questioned whether banning products from entering the EU market was an effective way to stop human rights abuses. Instead, he seems to favour a less effective legislation, forcing companies to withdraw products from the market if there is confirmation of forced labour. It is expected that the European Commission will present a proposal on the subject in September 2022. It’s not yet clear which of the two approaches the Commission will finally adopt.
With this resolution, the European Parliament expects to influence the Commission’s position towards a complete ban of all products of slavery.
The proposal on products based on forced labour will complement the corporate sustainable due diligence legislation to make corporations act responsibly throughout global value chains.
Left MEP Helmut Scholtz (Die Linke, Germany) said: “More than 44 million people worldwide live in modern forms of slavery. 25 million of them in forced labour and 19 million in forced marriages. Economic crises and climate change are constantly increasing the number of migrant workers and their families who are particularly at risk of exploitation. This includes 1.5 million victims in Europe and North America. We need to act now! I would have wanted Parliament’s resolution to also emphasise the rejection of sexual exploitation of trafficked women and the privatised prison labour industry.”
Manon Aubry, Co-President of The Left in the European Parliament commented on the resolution: “25 million people are subjected to forced labour around the world, most of them for corporate profit. The Commission promised a clear import ban on goods produced by forced labour and an ambitious due diligence directive, but now it seems more inclined to protect corporate interests. Human rights must prevail: we need strong legislation without delay!”
Debate and vote: Thursday, 9 June
Photo credit: CC/Flickr – NYU Stern BHR