Campaigners highlight omissions in the EU’s proposed ban on forced labour goods, the U.S., Japan and EU strengthen their joint commitment to eradicating forced labour, and California is set to legislate against international labour recruitment abuses
The European Commission proposed a ban on Wednesday on all goods made with forced labour produced in the EU or imported from third countries. Unlike the EU’s proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, which sets out obligations for larger companies to identify and prevent adverse impacts on human rights along global supply chains, the proposed ban is product-based and therefore applicable to all companies manufacturing, selling and importing forced labour goods within and into the EU internal market.
The proposal was broadly welcomed by both labour rights organizations and businesses, which had been waiting for the EU to act amid concern the bloc could become a dumping ground for products made with forced labour following the implementation of a U.S. law that prohibits the importation of products from China’s Xinjiang Region.
The EU proposal builds on internationally agreed definitions and standards and means national authorities would be able – following an investigation – to withdraw products made with forced labour from the EU market. In practice, the rules would take shape through a risk-based enforcement approach in which national authorities consider a variety of information sources such as submissions from civil society, due diligence from companies, and a database of forced labour risks around specific products and geographic areas. Where there are well founded suspicions that forced labour has been used, authorities could investigate, request information from companies, and carry out checks and inspections; if forced labour is discovered, products would be withdrawn from the market and disposed of. This would not be limited to EU countries.
However, experts have highlighted several flaws in the proposal. Most critically, there are no provisions that facilitate or support the remediation of victims of forced labour or help them claim back wages, retrieve their documents or seek compensation. The U.S. Tariff Act has proved it possible for enforcement agencies to help ensure victim remediation by withholding forced labour goods in order to compel companies to exert leverage over their suppliers but, say observers, the proposed EU law fails to center workers and their rights.
Another weakness of the proposal includes failure to identify the worst offending countries and industries. The EU’s proposed ban does not specifically mention state-induced forced labour in the text because, according to EU officials, it must comply with both World Trade Organization rules and international law. Furthermore, the European Commission proposes to exclude goods from the market only after the existence of forced labour has been established – this again differs from the U.S., where authorities are empowered to seize suspected forced labour products coming from Xinjiang. There is also concern that the burden of proof falls on European authorities with varying capacities and political commitment, not on importing companies, and this will not create the supply chain transparency and disclosure needed to ensure that forced labour has not occurred.
The proposal is considered an important step by those outside the EU – according to The Remedy Project, the legislation will have a significant effect on companies and suppliers operating in Asia. It points out that, together, the import ban and Directive empower authorities to investigate forced labour at any stage of the product supply chain – including the production, manufacture, harvest or extraction of a product; the new regulations should therefore encourage the investigation of downstream actors in the supply chain who are closer to the point at which forced labour might occur – in practice this would largely target Asian suppliers.
However, while this might make it more likely that forced labour will be discovered, meeting Western labour standards will be a challenge for most Asian companies because, as The Remedy Project states, no jurisdictions in Asia have introduced mandatory human rights due diligence laws applicable to all companies and, in the absence of regulation, few companies beyond publicly listed enterprises have introduced voluntary human rights due diligence mechanisms. In order to ensure that a supply chain is free of forced labour, Western retailers and upstream manufacturers would likely need to work with downstream suppliers to help them create human rights due diligence mechanisms that would meet the required standards. Such support will be especially important for small and medium-sized suppliers, who may lack the resources to establish robust mechanisms independently.
The proposal now needs to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union before it can enter into force. It will likely see modifications during this process, with campaigners waiting to see if key weaknesses are addressed.
Following publication of the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, the Trade and Labour Ministers of the U.S., Japan and EU have jointly re-emphasized their commitment to eradicating all forms of forced labour, including state-sponsored forced labour, from their rules-based multilateral trading system, and to strengthening national and international efforts to meet this commitment.
The Freedom Fund has pledged to expand its Survivor Leadership Fund – the first of its kind in the anti-slavery movement – to US$10 million by 2030. The Fund will provide at least 300 survivor-led organizations around the world with unrestricted grants, allowing them to expand and grow their community-based interventions. Walk Free and Stardust Fund have each pledged US$1 million for the initiative.
The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Hope for Justice, National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), Polaris, Shared Hope, and individual anti-trafficking leaders have urged the U.S. Congress to support the passage of the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2022, which provides relief to those who have been unjustly criminalized as a result of their trafficking victimization.
California is on the brink of enacting a historic law to combat international labour recruitment abuses and protect temporary migrant workers. Assembly Bill (AB) 364, which has passed the California Assembly and Senate, would expand the reach of the labour recruiter registration system, facilitating accountability for abuses to temporary work visa programs and protecting an estimated 300,000 migrant workers. It would also give California the authority to monitor and regulate labour recruiters doing business in the state and more proactively prevent abuse and trafficking.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised to remove officials who fail to act after ordering a strict crackdown on all forms of illegal gambling over the weekend. The order, delivered on Saturday, comes amid a dramatic rise in reported cases of human trafficking and kidnappings linked to the rampant casino industry in the Southeast Asian country.
The Israeli government has approved a five-year plan to battle human trafficking, amid fears of a further drop in its U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report ranking. The plan will transfer the authority to recognize trafficking victims from the police to the Ministry of Justice, after years of criticism of the victim-recognition procedure in Israel.
Journalismfund.eu has joined forces with Journalism for Nation Building Foundation (JNBF) and Rappler to invite Southeast Asian journalists and civil society organizations to a free in-person five-day training program on modern slavery reportage taking place in Manila in November.
This campaign aims to raise funds to produce Angel Of Bravery, a film telling the life story of Brenda Myers-Powell and her 25 years on the streets of Chicago, New York and California, through her own eyes.