European Parliament Moves to Ban Forced Labor Products in EU

Published: 20 October 2023

Labor ExploitationAn estimated 27.6 million people around the world are subjected to forced labor. (Photo: Lance Cheung/USDA, Flickr, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

The European Union took another step toward banning products originating from forced labor when two committees of the European Parliament in Strasbourg approved proposed legislation this week.

If endorsed during the plenary session in Brussels in November and the Council of the EU agrees on its position, inter-institutional negotiations will decide on the final text that would be passed.

Once in effect, the law will introduce a new set of rules to facilitate the investigation of forced labor in the supply chains of companies seeking to import those products into the European Union.

If a company is found to have employed forced labor, the draft regulation stipulates that all import and export of related goods will be immediately halted at EU borders.

Additionally, companies will be required to withdraw any goods that have already entered the EU market. These products, once retrieved, will be subjected to various options, including donation, recycling, or destruction.

"Forced labor is a grave human rights violation. The ban that we have voted for today will be essential in blocking products made using modern slavery and taking away the economic incentive for companies to engage in forced labor," said MEP Samira Rafaela on Monday.

"It will protect whistleblowers, provide remedies to victims, and defend our businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from unethical competition," she explained.

Additionally, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have proposed a list of geographical areas and economic sectors that pose a high risk of utilizing forced labor.

For goods originating from these high-risk areas, authorities will no longer have to prove that they come from forced labor. Instead, the onus will lie with the companies to demonstrate that their products are free from such exploitation.

Furthermore, MEPs have taken steps to refine and broaden the terminology employed in the regulation.

In particular, the definition of forced labor will be aligned with the standards set by the International Labor Organization (ILO), including "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily."

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), forced labor is a global concern that affects individuals of all ages, from children to adults. This practice can be enforced by governmental authorities, private enterprises, or even individuals acting independently. It permeates various economic sectors, encompassing fields like agriculture, construction, and domestic work, as well as more alarming forms such as sexual exploitation and coerced begging.