Opinion15 Mar 2019

Momentum grows for all G20 countries to act on modern slavery

G20 countries must take action on supply chain legislation now, to end the continuation of modern slavery.

NATO summit in Warsaw
German chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) in Warsaw, Poland, 2016. Photo Credit: Picture Alliance / Contributor via Getty Images.

At the 2017 G20 Summit in Germany, member countries signed a declaration to eradicate all forms of modern slavery. The declaration specified the responsibility of businesses to ensure their supply chains are free from forced labour, child labour and other forms of modern slavery.  

The United Kingdom and Australia have already introduced Modern Slavery Acts and France has adopted a corporate duty of vigilance law. Germany and Canada have announced their intention to legislate supply chain reporting. If enacted, this would bring the number of G20 countries that are demanding modern slavery accountability to five.

However, there is still a long way to go if we are committed to meeting the targets set at the 2017 summit. The Global Slavery Index (GSI) estimates there are currently 40.3 million people living in modern slavery around the world. G20 countries have a responsibility to take action to stop sourcing goods and services at risk of being produced by forced labour.

The Walk Free report ‘The G20 Obligation’ found that G20 countries annually import over US$354 billion worth of products at risk of modern slavery. Reliance on these products will only decrease when each G20 country introduces legislation that mandates business supply chain transparency. If G20 countries fail to address the issue of forced and child labour in their supply chains, they will continue to be complicit in the perpetuation of human rights abuses.

We welcome Germany and Canada’s recent progress and call for further action on modern slavery from the remaining G20 countries, which will set an example for the rest of the world.

Progress in Germany

As the fourth largest economy in the world, Germany hosts some of the largest global brands, which have complex supply chains spanning the globe.

A leaked bill drafted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) proposes the introduction of a suite of mandatory due diligence obligations for businesses to tackle human rights abuses in their supply chains.

The law would require major businesses based in Germany to carry out an internal analysis of their supply chains, introduce preventative measures if risks are detected, and establish an effective complaints mechanism for foreign workers.

The law would apply to businesses with over 250 employees and a turnover of more than 40 million euros. The legislation proposes sanctions against businesses that do not comply, including fines of up to five million Euros, imprisonment and exclusion from public procurement procedures in Germany.

The legislation would focus on businesses and their subsidiaries and contractors abroad, particularly those in conflict areas and high-risk industries such as agriculture, fishing, energy, mining, textile, leather, and electronics.

Germany’s current business human rights recommendations are voluntary, and have been criticised as ineffective. If the proposed bill is passed, it would establish one of the strongest business reporting regimes on modern slavery in the world.

Progress in Canada

The Canadian government has announced a public consultation, to consider legislation mandating businesses report on their actions to address the risks of child and forced labour in their supply chains.

This is in response to the bi-partisan 2018 Parliamentary Report that recommended the government introduce legislation to target the risk of forced labour, child labour and other human rights abuses in business supply chains.

Polling undertaken in Canada has reported that 91 per cent of Canadians support regulated reporting by businesses on who produces the goods they buy and the steps businesses are taking to reduce child and forced labour in their supply chains.

Canada is home to 70 per cent of the world’s mining businesses and there has been considerable public concern around the complicity of the Canadian mining industry in human rights violations overseas. If Canada decides to introduce legislation mandating businesses report on their supply chains, the flow-on effect would be globally significant.

Opportunity to drive international action

Walk Free has been actively campaigning to have G20 countries show leadership and prioritise supply chain transparency legislation. The developments in Germany and Canada demonstrate that momentum is building for an international standard that holds all businesses accountable for eradicating modern slavery within their operations and supply chains.

Following on from the 2017 declaration the challenge now is to ensure that each of the G20 countries delivers on its commitments. It is important civil society does not miss the opportunity to ensure legislation is developed in each G20 country and that real progress is made towards ending modern slavery.