Closing the EU-Borders for Products Made With Forced Labour
On the proposal for regulation to ban products made with forced labour on the EU market
Forced labour is an actual problem. According to the latest Global Estimates of modern slavery (issued by the ILO in September 2022), 27.6 million people are in situations of forced labour on any given day, from which 12% are children – and because of limited data, this already alarming percentage may well be just the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, the number of people in forced labour has increased by 2.7 million between 2016 and 2021. Therefore international organisations – especially the ILO – are still taking actions on a regular basis. For instance, in December 2022 the ILO launched the Forced Labour Observatory (FLO) to develop a global data warehouse on forced labour and trafficking. However, the ILO is not the only organisation to take action. Recently the European Union (EU) also showed commitment to end forced labour.
In the 2021 State of the Union Speech President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated: “we can never accept that people are forced to make products – and that these products then end up for sale in shops here in Europe. So we will propose a ban on products in our market that have been made by forced labour. Human rights are not for sale – at any price.” Following this commitment, the European Commission made a proposal for regulation in September 2022. This proposal roughly states that all products made with forced labour will be banned from the EU market, containing all sectors. Even though the media often state the proposal contains an “import ban”, it also bans exports, EU-production and even withdrawal from products that already are on the EU-market. The regulation will be enforced by customs authorities based on a risk-based approach drawing from independent and verifiable sources of information, such as the ILO. An easy-to-read summary of the proposal can be found in this factsheet.
As we can see there is a movement towards more efforts against forced labour. Respect for labour rights is a key priority on the EU’s agenda according to the European Commission. Even though the Forced Labour Convention 1930 (no. 29) is one of the ten fundamental or Core Conventions that ILO member states must comply with, at the moment 180 countries have it anyway which shows they actively support it. This seems to be an ongoing process, since 30 countries have ratified the convention since the year 2000, including the Republic of Korea in 2021 and (although not in force yet) China in 2022.
The proposal of the European Commission will probably come across many bumps in the road, like criticism on the feasibility for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) – even though their position is taken into account resulting in a tailor-made approach – or the capability and capacity of member states’ (customs) authorities. However, it marks a trend towards an active stance to end forced labour.