The European Union is looking at a draft regulation that would put in place a framework to investigate the use of forced labour in companies’ supply chains.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have requested a list of high-risk areas and sectors (that will include the cocoa industry) and if it is proven that a company has used forced labour, all import and export of the related goods would be halted at the EU’s borders and companies would also have to withdraw goods that have already reached the EU market. These would then be donated, recycled or destroyed.
For goods produced in these high-risk areas, the authorities would no longer need to prove that people have been forced to work, as the burden of proof would fall on companies.
Remediation and wider definitions
The committees also want goods that have been removed from the market to be allowed back on only after the company demonstrates it has stopped using forced labour in its operations or supply chain and remedied any relevant cases.
Co-rapporteur Samira Rafaela (Renew, NL) said: “Forced labour is a grave human rights violation. The ban that we have voted for … will be essential in blocking products made using modern slavery and taking away the economic incentive for companies to engage in forced labour. It will protect whistle-blowers, provide remedies to victims, and defend our businesses and SMEs from unethical competition. Our text includes strong provisions on a database and is gender-responsive, all key elements for sustained impact.”
After the vote, co-rapporteur Maria-Manuel Leitão-Marques (S&D, PT) said: “27.6 million workers worldwide suffer from forced labour, a kind of modern slavery – we should dedicate this victory to them. We have ensured that products made with forced labour are banned from the internal market until workers are compensated for the harm done to them. Banning forced labour also protects companies who follow the rules from unfair competition. Finally, we make it easier to prove state-imposed forced labour.”
But some human rights activists remain sceptical of the regulation and claim the EU will continue to profit from child labour. "The EU will not ban the importation of goods produced with child labour, even if European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is committed to ‘zero tolerance’ to child labour," Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, founder of the Cacao for Change website, told ConfectioneryNews.
“It is absolutely unacceptable and cruel that 75 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 34 years after the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and despite Ursula von der Leyen's promise to have zero tolerance to child labour in EU trade and all Member States' commitment to eliminate child labour by 2025, the EU institutions and the 27 EU governments do not even have a serious plan to eliminate child labour in the ‘Fairtrade’ coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, etc., consumed in the cafeterias of the EU institutions or the European governments,” he said.
- As Confectionery News has previously reported, the cocoa sector has been put on notice when the European Parliament adopted new law to fight global deforestation with cocoa, coffee, palm-oil, soya, wood, rubber, charcoal printed paper products and cattle covered by the new rules.