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Proposed EU Forced Labor Regulation Should Focus on Workers

Regulation Should Include Remediation for Victims

Migrant workers prepare to unload their catch at a port in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand on January 22, 2018.        © 2018 Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha

European Union governments meeting today in Brussels to discuss a proposed ban on products linked to forced labor, should allow forced labor victims in companies’ supply chains to receive remediation. Companies and business associations have called for remediation to be included in the draft regulation.

For victims of forced labor, remediation—finding a remedy for harms done—could vary depending on the circumstances. Typically, remediation requires a combination of measures including paying unpaid wages; reimbursing foreign worker recruitment fees; returning withheld passports; enabling workers to access worker rights organizations and to form and join unions; and ensuring access to physical and mental health care. Companies should consult with workers and their representatives on appropriate forms of remediation, and on rolling out and monitoring them.

The proposed regulation should encourage companies to better remediate forced labor in their supply chains. For example, after the nongovernmental organization Transparentem alerted PVH, Second Clothing, and Barbour to the high risk of forced labor in Mauritius, the three apparel brands—which were sourcing from the same factory—contributed towards reimbursing workers the recruitment fees they had paid. Recruitment fees typically put low-paid workers in debt, compelling them to endure poor working conditions and increasing the risk of forced labor.

The nongovernmental Remedy Project examined how US Customs and Border Protection had dealt with nine complaints of forced labor and found that the agency’s powers and procedures to impose, modify, or revoke import bans could be used as steps to provide remediation for harmed workers. Such approaches should be more consistently applied by US authorities and adopted by the EU.

Human Rights Watch and other civil society organizations have suggested how the proposed EU forced labor regulation could incentivize and facilitate robust prevention, mitigation, and remediation of forced labor in supply chains. This includes providing opportunities for companies to produce evidence of corrective actions they have taken in response to allegations of forced labor before the EU imposes an import or export ban. The regulation should also require companies to provide evidence of corrective actions, including remediation for victims, before deciding whether to reverse a ban.

The EU should not miss this important opportunity to introduce a powerful legal tool to assist workers.

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