Ask EP By / November 17, 2022

Forced labour and child labour

Citizens often turn to the European Parliament to ask what the European Union (EU) is doing to eradicate forced and child labour worldwide.

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Citizens often turn to the European Parliament to ask what the European Union (EU) is doing to eradicate forced and child labour worldwide.

According to estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 27.6 million people (including 3.3 million children) are in forced labour while child labour affects 160 million children (almost one in ten). These phenomena occur across all continents to varying degrees. Eradication of forced labour by 2030 and child labour by 2025 is enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.

The European Union (EU) has a long history of promoting respect for human rights and related labour rights, including decent work and freedom from forced labour, through a variety of internal and external policies. These include working together with international organisations, such as the International Labour Organization, World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Group of Seven (G7).

EU action to combat forced and child labour

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly prohibits forced labour (Article 5) and child labour (Article 32).

The EU has several laws in place to tackle forced labour, for instance on human trafficking and on sanctions against employers of migrants in an irregular situation. In addition, the European Commission has issued guidance to help EU businesses comply with international standards on forced labour in their operations and supply chains.

The EU purses a zero-tolerance approach to child labour in its international trade policy. It also works to address the root causes of child labour by tackling poverty, reducing inequalities, and increasing access to quality education and social protection. To achieve this, the EU supports partner governments, local actors and businesses, especially in the most affected countries. For example, EU free trade agreements require trading partners to implement the ILO’s conventions on the worst forms of child labour and on minimum working age. The EU participates in initiatives on specific supply chains, for cocoa and cotton for example, aiming to eliminate child labour.

The 2021-2024 EU strategy on child rights, adopted in March 2021, aims at tackling poverty and social exclusion, protecting and promoting the rights of children and building the best possible life for them both in the European Union and across the world.

The Council-led European Child Guarantee initiative promotes equal opportunities for all children, regardless of their background, in the EU. This includes access to early childhood education and care, education, play and leisure activities, healthcare, nutrition and housing. Each EU country has appointed their Child Guarantee Coordinator and should prepare national action plans to 2030.

European Parliament position on forced and child labour

In a March 2021 resolution regarding sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour, the European Parliament called for a ban on importing products related to severe human rights violations such as forced or child labour. It also stressed that the objective of combating these practices must be included in all EU free trade agreements.

In a June 2022 resolution on new EU rules on products made by forced labour, Parliament called for cooperation with partners who support ending forced labour globally and banning goods made by forced labour.

Besides monitoring EU external action, refining existing tools and considering new instruments to end forced labour and child labour, the European Parliament also adopts resolutions on specific issues.

In February 2020, Parliament adopted a resolution on child labour in mines in Madagascar, in which it highlighted that the EU long-term budget for 2021‑2027 should reflect the EU’s commitment to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

In December 2020, Parliament adopted a resolution on forced labour and the situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and in December 2021 a resolution on forced labour in the Linglong factory in Serbia.

New EU rules under discussion

In February 2022, the Commission put forward a proposal for a directive to foster sustainable corporate behaviour. Under these new rules, companies would be required to address adverse impacts of their activities on human rights (such as child labour and exploitation of workers), and on the environment, (pollution and biodiversity loss for example), both inside and outside the EU.

In reaction to a suggestion by Parliament in June 2022, the Commission put forward a proposal for a regulation in September 2022, which would ban products made by forced labour from being sold in the EU.

Further information

Keep sending your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.

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