Commentary: Forced labour in apparel supply chains demonstrates the need for Dutch due diligence law
Last Thursday, the German human rights organisation ECCHR, with the help of Amsterdam-based law firm Prakken d’Oliveira, filed a petition with the Dutch Public Prosecutor against several clothing retailers for their involvement in forced labour in their supply chains. On the same day, December 2nd, Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development de Bruijn announced that the Dutch government will immediately start work on ambitious national binding due diligence legislation to hold companies liable for human rights and environmental abuses in their supply chains. SOMO welcomes both of these developments. Companies who refuse to act responsibly and prevent human rights abuse in their supply chains must be forced to do so using the law. The global garment and textiles sector has a reputation for gross exploitation and labour rights violations. After a recent Dutch court ruling against Shell, the likes of Nike and C&A are now being called to account.
The garment industry has many voluntary initiatives aimed at improving working conditions, but none of these has brought about a sufficient degree of transparency and real improvements for workers.
Ultimately, legislation is needed, and indeed, a slate of new legislation is currently in the pipeline in various jurisdictions. A ban on products made with forced labour, which has been openly supported by European Commission President von der Leyen and the new German coalition government, would be an excellent initial step. In addition, ambitious human rights due diligence legislation that includes strong transparency requirements and enforceability mechanisms is required at the Dutch, European, and international (UN) level. Fortunately, detailed proposals for such mandatory due diligence legislation have already been made and are being discussed at the Dutch and European parliaments, and the UN in the form of a binding instrument on business and human rights. SOMO calls on the incoming Dutch government to continue the line set out by Minister de Bruijn and to introduce strong legislation in which transparency and human rights are central, at the national, European and international levels.