On 14 September 2022, the EU Commission presented a draft regulation, according to which products, which were made with forced labour, are to be banned from the European market. What Ursula von der Leyen had already announced in her 2021 State of the Union Address, has now been set in motion, albeit twelve months later. It is now up to the EU Parliament and the Council to negotiate the draft submitted.
According to estimates, about 28 million people worldwide are in forced labour. Therefore, on 9 June 2022 the EU Parliament had already adopted, almost unanimously, a Resolution on a ban of products made by forced labour, urging the EU Commission to expedite the presentation of a corresponding legislative initiative.
The Proposal presented by the EU Commission encompasses all products from all economic sectors and applies to all operators that produce and sell forced labour goods, import these into the Union market and export them to third countries.
According to the Proposal, Member States’ national authorities and close intergovernmental cooperation are to take on a key role. Initially, the authorities have to carry out a risk assessment in respect of forced labour. The draft regulation provides for these assessments to be based on statements by civil society, a database on forced labour risk and on due diligence audits carried out by the operators. Should there be grounds for suspicion that goods were produced by forced labour, comprehensive inspections have to be organised without delay. In this context, authorities shall in particular be given the opportunity of carrying out inspections. According to plans by the EU Commission, these powers shall also apply to operators from non-EU countries. However, against the background of an often lacking will to cooperate and of limited resources, the actual implementation of these comprehensive inspection powers seems to be questionable. The EU Commission is therefore proposing that national authorities, in case of lacking cooperation, will also be able to base their decision on available information. If the suspicion of goods being produced by forced labour has been confirmed, products shall be immediately withdrawn from the market and any import and export be prohibited.
Apart from that, the EU Commission has announced its intention to publish guidelines within 18 months after the possible coming into force of this regulation. These guidelines shall in particular include information on risk indicators for forced labour. Furthermore, a new EU network for products made with forced labour (EU Forced Labour Product Network) shall adopt a supporting role to improve coordination between national authorities.
Draft regulation with considerable gaps
From AK‘s point of view, the Commission proposal on banning products, which are associated with forced labour, is, in principle, to be welcomed. However, the Proposal needs to be improved in order to effectively prevent exploitative labour in value chains. The EU should not only take decisive action against forced labour, but also against all other form of exploitation and suppression. As current figures of the International Trade Union Confederation show, the founding of trade unions has been made more difficult globally, whereby the same applies to the non-union based approach regarding better working conditions. AK President Renate Anderl comments as follows: “Only when workers are able to unite, they have the chance to take up the joint fight for living wages”. In particular with regard to trade union education and collective bargaining, AK urgently demands necessary improvements to ensure comprehensive protection against generally inhumane working conditions. Apart from that, the ban on products made with forced labour can only be a first step. From AK’s point of view, corporations must at last take responsibility for paying attention to human rights and the environment in global supply chains. Effective relief must be provided for the people affected. Hence, AK is demanding a strong EU supply chain law.