By the EESC Workers' Group

We firmly support the Commission's advancement of decent work, but are concerned that gaps in current proposals may lead to sub-optimal implementation.

Forced labour may appear a distant problem for many Europeans but, in reality, the issue is far less remote than it seems. Many everyday goods – from clothing to smartphones – have been found to contain materials manufactured using forced labour.
Efforts to reduce and prevent modern slavery had resulted in a steady decline in those trapped in forced labour. However, in 2016 this trend was reversed.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there were 28 million people in forced labour in 2021, 10 million more than in 2016.  The number of children aged 5 to 17 engaged in child labour increased by more than 8 million to a total of 160 million during the same period.

The European Union has sought to utilise trade policy to combat modern slavery abroad. These efforts have not been without success. Earlier this year, the ILO declared Uzbekistan free from child and forced labour following work undertaken jointly by the EU, US, Germany, Switzerland and the ILO.

More recently, the EU has sought to strengthen the tools it uses to tackle labour malpractices abroad. In February, the Commission issued a Communication on Decent Work Worldwide which reaffirmed Europe's commitment to championing decent work at home and abroad. The Communication also outlined areas the Commission intends to focus on in strengthening upcoming and existing tools. The proposed Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence would establish a duty for large employers to address negative environmental and human rights effects in their supply chain. Moreover, as part of her State of the Union address, President von der Leyen announced a proposal to prohibit goods made using forced labour from entering into the EU market.

We continue to firmly support the Commission's advancement of decent work. Nonetheless, we are concerned that gaps in current proposals may lead to sub-optimal implementation. Many SME's will not reach the employee or net turnover threshold that would bring them within the remit of the legislation. The use of vague terminology in the directive jeopardises its potency and requires further clarification. A failure to codify structures for social dialogue risks the exclusion of workers as an effective tool in oversight. Europe's efforts to improve labour standards worldwide are clearly noble, but it still remains to be seen whether its proposals will be adequately enforced. (lc)