Let nothing enter the European market that has been produced by forced labour. This is the legislative proposal presented this Wednesday by the European Commission. The proposal, which follows a communication published in February, covers all types of products: those produced in the EU for domestic consumption and exports, and imported goods, without mentioning specific companies or industries.
Slavery is not a problem of the past: it is increasing and affects 50 million people worldwide
According to ILO data, 27.6 million people are in forced labour, in many industries and on all continents. “Most forced labor takes place in the private economy,” says the European Commission, “while there are also examples of state practices.”
The European Commission says its proposal is based on “internationally agreed definitions and standards. National authorities will have the power to withdraw products produced by forced labor from the EU market, after investigation. EU customs authorities will identify and stop products made with forced labor at EU borders.
A total of 160 million children worldwide are in child labour. That is to say one in ten children in the world, and their number continues to increase. Nearly half of these children perform hazardous work. “Decent work is still not a reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world”, recognizes the community executive, “despite the clear commitment of the international community to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the ‘Agenda 2030’.
Brussels says it is committed to defending “workers’ rights and avoiding a race to the bottom, using all available instruments. The promotion of decent work worldwide, including the elimination of child labor and forced labor, is central to this effort. Promoting decent work globally is essential for the EU as a geopolitical actor that strongly supports individual rights and freedoms, all the more so in a rapidly changing world of work and in the context of changing global relations. “.
How would that work?
National authorities in member states would be responsible for enforcing the ban. The authorities will open investigations into products for which there are well-founded suspicions that they were manufactured with forced labour. They can request information from companies and carry out checks and inspections, even in countries outside the EU. If the national authorities identify the existence of forced labour, “they will order the withdrawal of the products already placed on the market and prohibit the placing of the products on the market and their export. Member State customs authorities will be responsible for enforcement at EU borders”.
If the national authorities cannot gather all the evidence they need, for example due to non-cooperation from a non-EU company or a state authority, “they can take the decision on the basis of the evidence available “, he says in Brussels.
“Competent authorities will apply the principles of risk-based assessment and proportionality throughout the process”, explains the Commission: “Thus, the proposal takes into account, in particular, the situation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) . Without being exempted from it, SMEs will benefit from a specific design of the measure. In other words, the competent authorities will take into account the size and resources of the economic operators concerned, as well as the scale of the risk of forced labor before launching a formal investigation. SMEs will also benefit from the support tools.
The Commission will have to issue compliance guidelines 18 months after the entry into force of the regulation, which requires prior agreement with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU – the governments –.
The guidelines will include guidance on forced labor due diligence and information on forced labor risk indicators. The new EU Network on Products of Forced Labor will serve as a platform for structured coordination and cooperation between competent authorities and the Commission.