EU fisheries committee cracks down on forced labor

Unscrupulous operators have avoided sanctions for egregious exploitation of their workers for too long. Recently, with the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries’ vote in favor of a new EU law prohibiting imports of products made with forced labor, it is an important step closer to concrete legislation to defend the rights of workers across the globe. Critically, the Committee voted to give the new law an important tool in the right against forced labor – a “carding system” for imports.

The Committee on Fisheries voted to use the new EU law to effectively address systemic forced labor through EU’s formal engagement with third countries. This reflects a similar so-called carding system which features in the EU’s Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) Fishing Regulation, and uses formal dialogues and yellow and red cards to facilitate compliance of third countries with international obligations on fisheries.

By the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) latest estimates, almost 28 million people globally are trapped in forced labor. This figure indicates a rise of approximately 2.7 million since the previous estimate in 2016. Despite global commitments to eradicate forced labor, action to tackle these practices are not happening quickly enough.

Under a carding system, the European Commission would be empowered to identify systemic forced labor associated with groups of goods from importing countries. A yellow card acts as a warning, while a red card means specific and proportionate measures could be taken against that country. This process would be underpinned by a structured dialogue framework between the European Commission and the third country to work together to address forced labor issues.

This system draws on a successful EU carding scheme aimed at the problem of illegal fishing, which has been operated since 2010. This has seen the EU engage with over 60 countries, with the majority making significant, positive reforms. Only four countries are currently red carded, meaning they failed to make reforms to tackle illegal fishing and are therefore unable to send seafood to the EU.

A carding system used in the context of forced labor would be a game-changer in the fight against systemic forced labor, incentivizing countries across the world to act to protect vulnerable workers trapped in modern day slavery.

Members of European Parliaments in other committees and in the wider Parliament must now also back this amendment to ensure the EU plays its role in the eradication of forced labor.

Steve Trent, EJF CEO and Founder, said: “The Fisheries Committee has taken a crucial step with their vote today to progress a new forced labor regulation, and we commend the inclusion of a carding scheme, which EJF has seen first-hand succeed in the fight against illegal fishing. It is critical that other committees and member states now seize this opportunity and make rapid progress on this important law in the coming months. This could be a key legacy of Spain’s EU Presidency, benefiting millions of exploited workers across the world and protecting legitimate industry actors from unfair competition.”

Photo credit: iStock/ winnond

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