Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Passing the buck on labour rights protection

We shouldn't hold our breath waiting for developing countries to enforce their own labour laws, so that can't be the answer for stopping forced labour.

Hugh Helferty
11 October 2016

Suger cane harvest in the Philippines. Achim Voss/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by)

This piece was written within the context of the BTS policy debate: 'can corporations be trusted to tackle modern day slavery', and is specifically a response to the arguments of Ed Potter.

Ed Potter argues that more legislation will not end modern slavery, only enforcement will. The problem is that many developing countries have failed to enforce their forced labour laws for decades, and there is no reason to believe that they are about to start now.

What, then, should developed countries do to change this? Developed countries should establish and implement laws that prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labour. Those goods will then be sourced from firms that pay their workers a fair wage.

Once developed countries are no longer benefitting from cheap goods produced by forced labour, they can consider steps, such as sanctions, to encourage developing countries to enforce their forced labour laws. Applying sanctions without first requiring importing companies to clean up their supply chains lacks moral legitimacy. How can one apply pressure or sanctions while continuing to benefit from modern slavery?

Many developed countries do not have legislation prohibiting the importation of goods produced by forced labour. It is time that such laws were put in place. Without them – yes, they do need to be enforced – tens of millions of men, women, and children worldwide will continue to be victims of modern slavery.

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