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NGOs call on EU to introduce import controls to address forced labour in supply chains

Workers across all industries – construction, agriculture, fashion, electronics, mining, cleaning, hospitality and many other more. This is an injustice that is not limited to one continent; it is endemic all over the world. Considering the scale of the problem, what needs to be done to tackle the inequalities existing in our current global production system and make sure people everywhere are free from forced labour? Could import controls be the answer?

First, we must remember that the exploitation of people in forced labour to produce the goods and services that we use daily, is not an inevitability. There are methods that can make sure that forced labour in global company supply chains comes to an end.

At Anti-Slavery International, we have been working to call for governments to introduce strong laws that would make companies fully responsible for the human rights abuses and environmental harm in their supply chains, in turn compelling companies to take meaningful steps to prevent and remedy forced labour, and making sure victims have access to justice...

...In June 2021 we welcomed the G7’s commitment to make sure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labour...

...We believe one of the key areas for alignment across the G7 is the introduction of import controls on goods made or transported (wholly or partially) with forced labour. Import controls are a powerful measure that compel companies to make sure forced labour is not in their supply chains. Governments’ custom authorities can identify specific products, manufacturers, fleets, or companies whose goods have a high likelihood of being tainted with forced labour, and then block or seize the import of these goods into countries. This protects consumers from inadvertently buying products tainted by forced labour, and reduces the demand for them...

...Import controls should not be the only measure used to address forced labour in global supply chains. Instead, they should be introduced as part of strong legal, trade and development framework to address the root causes of forced labour – poverty, lack of legal protection, worker representation and discrimination. In particular, we have worked for many years to call for the introduction of stronger laws such as mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD), and we believe that the two approaches – mHREDD and import controls – are complementary.

Although specifically concerned with developments in the EU, this position paper is applicable to all governments. We need to see alignment from all states – as called for by the G7 communiqué – to have any hope to bring justice to victims of forced labour, and to end the persistent profit from exploitative labour around the world...

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