03 Jul 2024

More needs to be done to address forced labour

The 50th G7 Summit in Italy made a step forward by acknowledging forced labour in global supply chains but fell short of proposing concrete actions to address the estimated 28 million people in forced labour worldwide.

US President Joe Biden (C), Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment Event during the G7 Summit at the Borgo Egnazia resort in Savelletri, Italy, on June 13, 2024. Leaders of the G7 wealthy nations gather in southern Italy this week against the backdrop of global and political turmoil. Photo Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images.

The G7 Summit includes the world’s largest economies, who in 2021 imported over US$335 billion worth of products at-risk of forced labour, according to data from Walk Free’s latest Global Slavery Index.

While the G7 communique did mention forced labour, stating that members will “intensify our efforts to abolish all forms of forced and compulsory labour and child labour,” Walk Free’s Director of Operations Katharine Bryant emphasised the need for more than just recognition.

“It’s positive to see forced labour mentioned in the G7 communique, but we’ve seen similar acknowledgments for years without sufficient follow-through,” Bryant said.

“What we need now is concrete action to combat this urgent human rights issue, especially considering many of the people living in forced labour are exploited within the G7 nations’ own supply chains.”

Forced labour distorts markets, undercuts ethical businesses, and perpetuates cycles of poverty and inequality. The Summit represented an opportunity for collective action against forced labour, but fell short of proposing specific measures.

How can the G7 protect the rights of vulnerable workers?

• Implement import bans, controls, and other trade mechanisms targeting products linked to egregious human rights violations.
• Take steps to adopt legislation requiring mandatory human rights due diligence.
• Establish a standing working group dedicated to addressing forced labour and the worst forms of child labour.

“While conflict, climate change, and migration rightly took centre stage on the G7 agenda, these pressing matters directly fuel forced labour risks and cannot be overlooked,” said Bryant.

“These inter-connected challenges demand an integrated approach – one that tackles forced labour in parallel as a consequence of many of the threats facing our world today, while addressing the systemic factors that enable exploitation to thrive amid crises.”

The lack of concrete commitments is particularly concerning given recent progress by individual nations and regional blocs. The European Union, for instance, has taken significant steps with its Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, mandating human rights and environmental due diligence in supply chains.

Meaningful change takes persistent efforts. As an influential global bloc, the G7 has the potential to drive substantial impact in combating this pervasive issue. There are some promising developments, such as Canada’s emerging leadership on this front, with the country set to host the 2025 G7, which offers hope for elevating the issue in future summits.

Walk Free looks forward to seeing the G7 move beyond recognition to prioritise concrete actions addressing forced labour that deprives 28 million people of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Civil society, businesses, and concerned citizens worldwide must continue advocating for this cause until influential bodies like the G7 take decisive action.