By an overwhelming majority, the Trade Committee at the European Parliament yesterday (16 May) approved a draft resolution calling on the EU to ban products made by forced labour reaching EU markets.
Around the world, more than 25 million people are victims of forced labour – 71% of these are women and girls, and one in four victims are children.
Existing resolutions are not fit for purpose, and don’t protect the victims of slave labour or stop its products reaching EU markets, according to campaigning groups the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and Oceana, which welcomed the vote.
The resolution is due to be voted on by the European Parliament in plenary in early June.
The EJF has written to the European Commissioner for Justice about the fight against illegal fishing, and says that a strong role for the European Commission, coupled with collaboration at EU level, is vital to create enforceable and effective regulation.
The campaigners believe it is good news that the Trade Committee is calling for public authorities to be able to act on information provided by stakeholders, NGOs or affected workers.
“This first-hand knowledge is an irreplaceable tool in raising the alarm on human-rights abuses and ensuring they are swiftly resolved,” the groups said in a statement.
The draft resolution also highlights the need for cooperation beyond the EU to put an end to forced labour globally, and shut the door on the products it generates.
This will require widespread collaboration to ensure any ban is not circumvented, and that suspect goods cannot be re-routed.
The resolution suggests a public list of sanctioned entities, regions and products be created and maintained.
This system of centralised reporting will provide vital transparency and an invaluable asset for companies struggling to assess their own risks, campaigners believe.
Steve Trent, founder and Chief Executive of the Environmental Justice Foundation, said: “This is a vital step forward in realising the European Green Deal and supporting human rights around the globe, and can help to break a vicious cycle of environmental destruction and human-rights abuses.
Oceana illegal fishing campaign director Vanya Vulperhorst said: “The EU’s law to tackle illegal fishing has improved ocean management, both in the EU and internationally.
“A key element of its success is that the EU leverages its market power, closing its market to products from countries that fail to tackle illegal fishing.
“For the future forced-labour law to be effective, both in the EU and globally, it should require member states to put in place the structural changes needed to actually enforce such a ban. It is therefore crucial that there are annual EU audits, and consequences for member states who fail to implement the law”.