Karen Bradley, MP and GFEMS CEO call for leaders to take action
October 13, 2021
As we prepare to mark Anti-Slavery Day and the trade ministers of the world’s largest economies arrive in London, we face a stark truth: forced labour is pervasive across our economies and supply chains.
There are an estimated 25 million people in the world who are victims of forced labour exploitation, and evidence suggests this number is rising. These crimes taint tens of billions of pounds worth of everyday goods that make up our diets and daily routines, from coffee and chocolate to mobile phones and the clothes we wear.
The good news is that people are demanding change — and many governments and corporations are responding. Last June, at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, leaders committed to work together to “protect individuals from forced labour and to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labour”.
Many nations are passing new laws, ranging from modern slavery acts to mandatory due diligence laws and import bans, to prevent the trade in goods and services made using forced labour. Corporations, too, are making commitments to increase the transparency of their supply chains, and investors are realising that not only is modern slavery morally wrong, it is a material, financial risk to their portfolios.
But commitments are not enough. It is time for action. Time to get practical. That is why we have joined anti-slavery leaders from around the world to write to the G7 trade ministers calling for action to make these commitments a reality.
The trade ministers were tasked by their leaders to “identify areas for strengthened cooperation and collective efforts towards eradicating the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains”. We know the problem. We have political commitments to deal with it. And we have proven solutions.
• First, G7 counties must work together to agree legal frameworks that are complementary and collaborative. We should harmonise minimum legal and regulatory standards on forced labour.
This should include all members prohibiting the import, export or internal sale of goods and merchandise made or transported wholly or in part by forced labour, as well as mandating that companies operating in their jurisdiction conduct human rights and environmental due diligence in their operations and supply chains, in line with UN guiding principles.
• Second, G7 countries should agree that any future trade agreement, trade preference programme or other trade tools must contain provisions specifically prohibiting the use of forced labour. It should also include punishment for violations. To ensure that our lower-income trading partners can be part of the solution, G7 nations should provide support to partners to help achieve these standards and facilitate trade that remains free of forced labour.
• Third, the G7 should commit to recognising that any forced labour-related import, export or internal sale prohibition imposed by one member country is applied across all member countries. Such a step would dramatically lower the costs and barriers to effective and timely action. This bold move will require the creation and strengthening of mechanisms for robust information and data-sharing, as well as the development of common criteria and methods based on best practices.
• Fourth, G7 nations should use all available instruments, including public procurement policies and their leadership in multilateral institutions, to prevent forced labour in global supply chains, including within the digital economy.
• Fifth, the G7 must make additional commitments to assist people who have been victimised by forced labour, whether at home or abroad. These programmes must be designed with the meaningful input of affected workers and survivors and should be based on common principles for assisting those who have been harmed, including for rehabilitation and remediation purposes.
We will never build back better or achieve sustainability on the back of slave labour. We are confident that these five steps, taken together, could make significant strides in reducing forced labour, supporting survivors and ending impunity for traffickers. It is time to translate broad principles into the specific policy and resource commitments to achieve these objectives.
Karen Bradley is co-chairwoman of the all party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery; Alex Thier is chief executive of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery