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  • Arushita Singh

Breaking The Chains: India’s Imperative To Follow EU’s Lead In Banning Forced Labour Products

This article is authored by Arushita Singh, a 3rd Year B.A. LL.B(Hons) student from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal.


Today G20 countries are collectively importing $148 billion worth of apparel goods and $13 billion worth of textiles at risk of being produced by forced labour every year.”

- Global Slavery Index 2023


On May 24, 2023, the Walk Free Foundation unveiled the Global Slavery Index 2023, which is a comprehensive evaluation of modern slavery across 160 countries. This index relies on data released by the International Labour Organisation (“ILO”), Walk Free, and the International Organisation for Migration (“IOM”) from the previous year, shedding light on the unsettling reality that "modern slavery is hidden in plain sight." This release carries added significance as India presides over the G20 this year, emphasizing sustainable development and climate change mitigation. The report exposes a distressing trend: 50 million individuals are currently trapped in modern slavery conditions, representing a worrisome 25% increase in the past half-decade.

The report attributes part of this surge to the practices of the Group of 20 (G20) nations, whose extensive trade operations and global supply chains inadvertently enable human rights violations. India leads this grim list with 11 million individuals subjected to forced labour, with China, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey, and the U.S. following closely behind. These findings underscore the pressing need for collective international action to combat modern slavery and protect the rights and dignity of millions.


India and Forced Labour: Stuck in the Mud

In 1976, India took a significant step by enacting the Bonded Labour Abolition Act (“Bonded Labour Act”), which unequivocally prohibits bonded and forced labour. It also outlines the responsibilities of State Governments in forming vigilance committees to combat this heinous practice. Moreover, India initiated a Central scheme for the Rehabilitation of Bonded Labour, a component of which involves providing financial aid to rescued individuals. India is also a signatory of the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

Despite these legislative measures, the scourge of forced labour persists even after nearly four decades since the enactment of the Bonded Labour Act. This enduring problem can be attributed to various factors, including entrenched socio-cultural norms and administrative and legislative shortcomings. As a result, India's most vulnerable and marginalized populations continue to be at risk of falling victim to this modern form of slavery.

The urgency of addressing this matter cannot be overstated, especially considering recent reports identifying India as the G20 nation with the highest number of people trapped in forced labour. We must take immediate action to break the chains of bondage and ensure the protection of basic human rights for all. Lessons from EU: Going Above and Beyond

Forced labour remains a grave human rights violation that persists in many parts of the world, affecting millions of vulnerable individuals. To combat this issue and promote ethical labour practices, the European Union (“EU”) has taken a significant step by adopting the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (“CSDDD”) and proposed a Regulation that bans products made with forced labour. This innovative approach serves as a model for countries like India, where forced labour remains a concern.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the EU Commission is going beyond the CSDDD's provisions to address forced labour comprehensively. In addition to the enforcement mechanisms of CSDDD, the EU is planning to ban all products made with forced labour from the EU market and export through a separate draft legislation known as the Regulation on Prohibiting Products Made with forced labour (“Forced Labour Regulation/Regulation”). The European Parliament is expected to adopt this legislation in early 2024.

The CSDDD recognizes the pivotal role that companies play in achieving the European Green Deal targets and UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those related to human rights. Under the CSDDD, large companies are mandated to implement a six-stage due diligence framework based on the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct. This framework requires companies to take measures to identify, prevent, mitigate, or end adverse human rights impacts within their value chains, including forced labour.

The CSDDD's enforcement mechanisms are robust. Member States are tasked with imposing "effective, proportionate, and dissuasive" sanctions, including criminal charges, administrative fines, and compliance orders, with penalties based on a company's turnover. The CSDDD also introduces civil liability for companies regarding damages incurred by victims of forced labour.

The Forced Labour Regulation complements the CSDDD's enforcement efforts. The Regulation explicitly bans products made with forced labor from being sold in the EU market and prohibits their export. This ban covers all products and their components, regardless of origin or industry. It aligns with the definition within Article 2 of ILO Convention No. 29 covering all work or services exacted under the threat of penalty and without voluntary consent. Competent national authorities, including customs authorities, will investigate alleged forced labour violations. Investigations comprise two phases: Phase one assesses forced labor suspicions based on various information sources, including independent data, market surveillance, third-party submissions, and a company's due diligence. In phase two, if concerns are confirmed, authorities notify companies and initiate investigations. Firms must respond within 15 working days. Authorities may conduct overseas checks with consent. This enforcement approach combines elements from EU trade defense and customs enforcement procedures.

If violations are established, authorities can issue product and export prohibitions, order product withdrawals from the EU market, and even mandate product disposals. Non-compliance can lead to criminal or administrative sanctions under national law.

It's crucial to note that the draft Regulation doesn't impose new due diligence obligations on companies; these obligations are determined by the CSDDD. Instead, it introduces additional consequences for CSDDD violations, creating a comprehensive enforcement framework. However, the Regulation has a broad general application, which doesn’t limit itself to size of the companies (as in the case of CSDDD).

The significance of these measures extends beyond the EU's borders. With an estimated 27.6 million people globally in forced labour according to the ILO, the EU's initiatives are part of international efforts to promote decent work and human rights. Given the global nature of value chains, where products often involve internationally sourced raw materials or production in third countries, such regulations are instrumental in addressing forced labour risks effectively.

Call For Action

The EU is taking a potentially effective approach to combat forced labour with the introduction of the CSDDD and a complementary draft Regulation prohibiting products made with forced labour. This comprehensive legislation aims to address the grave issue of forced labour and its implications not only within the EU but also in the global supply chain.

The introduction of such legislative frameworks on an international level signifies a landmark shift in corporate responsibility, with the potential to set a new standard for ethical supply chain practices worldwide. As the world grapples with the challenges of forced labour, the EU's approach serves as an example of how stringent enforcement, product bans, and a relentless commitment to human rights can reshape the landscape of global trade and corporate accountability.

India could achieve positive change by following the European Union's example in adopting legislation to combat forced labor. Banning products made with forced labor is a simple act that can trigger a ripple effect of positive change. India could achieve positive change by following the European Union's example in adopting legislation to combat forced labor. Banning products made with forced labor is a simple act that can trigger a ripple effect of positive changeIndia could achieve positive change by following the European Union's example in adopting legislation to combat forced labor. Banning products made with forced labor is a simple act that can trigger a ripple effect of positive changeFirstly, it creates a powerful economic disincentive, making the exploitation of forced labour less profitable and dissuading unscrupulous businesses from treading that unethical path. Moreover, it sends a resounding ethical message, one that resonates with the very core of humane labour practices, nurturing a culture of responsible consumerism and motivating companies to embrace ethical supply chain practices. The banning of such products also paves the way for legal accountability, ensuring that companies involved in forced labour face the consequences through fines and sanctions, thus acting as a robust deterrent.

Compliance with these bans necessitates nothing short of fully transparent supply chains, compelling companies to trace the origins of their products meticulously and, in the process, eradicate forced labour from their operations. This transparency not only safeguards against exploitation but also engenders consumer trust and confidence.

The commercial benefits are manifold. Companies that adopt ethical labour practices gain a competitive edge in the market, pushing their peers to follow suit and elevating industry standards across the board. Additionally, these bans exert considerable pressure on countries where forced labour prevails, urging them to enhance labour rights and enforcement mechanisms.

Hence, the adoption of legislation banning products made with forced labour in India would not just be a legal framework; it would be a powerful catalyst for change. It would foster an environment where economics and ethics walk hand in hand, where businesses and nations alike recognize the value of human rights above all else, ultimately leading to a world where forced labour is nothing but a dark memory of the past.

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