A group of 16 NGOs, coalitions and trade unions, including IndustriAll European Trade Union, Clean Clothes Campaign Europe and the World Uyghur Congress, have written a joint letter to the European Commission, urging “impactful” amendments be made to its proposal on prohibiting products made with forced labour in the European Union.
The signatories explain the suggested changes are essential to make the proposed regulation efficient, implementable and impactful for eradicating forced labour goods from the European Union in a meaningful way.
The signatories state: “Indeed, the changes below are crucial to create the sufficient leverage to both foster better working conditions for all and to improve the lives of workers trapped in situations of forced labour by providing them with adequate remedies.”
Proposed amendments to EU’s forced labour eradication proposal
- The inclusion of remedies for all workers (both EU and non-EU-based) trapped in forced labour must be a crucial point of the legislation. The provision of remedy – including compensation and back wages – should be a prerequisite to the lifting of a ban in particular. These remedies should be defined through meaningful stakeholder engagement and ideally include the victims themselves when and wherever possible.
- All complainants should be protected, whether or not they are based in the EU and thus under the scope of the Whistleblower Directive. This implies that all complainant’s information should be treated as confidential.
- The proposed legislation should foresee appropriate lower evidentiary standards to initiate the investigation and to adopt a decision. The available sanctions should, similarly, be adapted as appropriate.
- Avoid that due diligence measures reported by companies could be used as a defence against the opening of a full investigation. In particular, social audits and certifications cannot be deemed sufficient defence to ward off an investigation.
- The European Commission should be designated as a competent authority, to be able to conduct politically sensitive investigations (such as ones linked to state-imposed forced labour (SIFL)) or to contribute to the investigation process when appropriate and, in particular, when investigating in third countries is required.
- The regulation should establish a rebuttable presumption of forced labour on specific product groups (like all cotton) from specified countries or regions (such as Turkmenistan or the Uyghur Region) that would lead to a ban on these specific product groups.
- Bringing to an end the use of forced labour shall not mean disengagement with the economic operator except as a measure of last resort. With the exception of situations of state-imposed forced labour where remediation by an economic operator is rendered impossible, the obligation to eliminate forced labour cannot be fulfilled by simply disengaging from their operators.
Inside the EU proposal to eradicate forced labour
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 states the international community has committed to eradicating forced labour by 2030.
In this context, the European Union explains combating forced labour and promoting corporate sustainability due diligence strands are priorities of its agenda on human rights.
The objective of the proposal is to “effectively prohibit the placing and making available on the EU market and the export from the EU of products made with forced labour, including forced child labour.”
This also includes domestically produced and imported products.
The proposal builds on international standards and complements existing horizontal and sectoral EU initiatives, in particular the corporate sustainability due diligence and reporting obligations, the proposal lays down a prohibition supported by a robust, risk-based enforcement framework.
The US signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) into law on 23 December. It is different to what is being proposed in the EU as it specifically targets the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. It requires companies, including apparel brands and retailers, to ensure goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part with forced labour…are not imported into the United States.
Last month, a court ruling criticised US Customs and Border Protection for detaining goods with “little to no information” in its efforts to curb the import of goods produced with alleged forced labour.
Two weeks ago (10 September), data from risk intelligence agency, Kharon, revealed that since the enforcement of the US’s UFLPA there has been a spike in forced labour detained goods from outside China.