human rights & business (and a few other things)

The EC’s draft ban on products made using forced labour: Key measures to guarantee remediation for victims


I am very pleased to host two blog pieces which reflect on the 10 years which have passed since Rana Plaza as well as offering thoughts as to the way forward. The first one, by Rubana Huq was posted here. The second one, by Claire Methven O’Brien and Amy Weatherburn focus on the remedy gap in the Draft Regulation proposed by the EC.

These blog pieces were commissioned and edited by Sandhya Drew and Felogene Anumo for the Blog of the Business and Human Rights Journal but an IT blip on the CUP website is delaying publication, and so I have seized this opportunity. These pieces will be crossposted by the BHRJ Blog too at a later date.


Claire Methven O’Brien and Amy Weatherburn


 In 2022, the European Commission (EC) proposed a new Regulation to ban products made using forced labour from the EU market.  In this post, we highlight the absence of provisions in the draft Regulation to guarantee remedies for victims, and put forward five remediation measures that could be introduced to address this gap.

The EC’s proposed ban on products made using forced labour in outline

The EC’s proposal seeks to prevent goods made with forced labour from circulating on the EU market. The draft Regulation would hence empower Member State authorities, where there are indicators of forced labour in the supply chain, to investigate products and businesses (Articles 4-5) and conduct checks and inspections inside as well as outside the European Economic Area. Where forced labour is implicated in their production, goods can be withheld or disposed of (Article 6) and penalties imposed for non-compliance (Article 30). Additional EU-level measures aim to promote the law’s effectiveness. These include an EU database of forced labour risk areas and products to supply data to guide investigations and checks (Article 11) and guidance (Article 23). In terms of checks and balances, enforcement action against businesses is to be subject to review and appeal before national courts.

Remedies for forced labour victims in the draft EU Regulation: a crucial omission

Despite its prohibition in international law and its designation as one of the five fundamental principles and rights at work, forced labour is on the rise globally, with 28 million victims worldwide, 86 % in the private sector and most women. Human rights standards, including those binding on the EU, demand that individuals who fall victim to forced labour must be remediated. Remedies must be sufficient and certain in practice and context-specific, with reference to victims’ individual circumstances. While these rules generally relate to forced labour occurring within a state’s jurisdiction, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and Council of Europe standards affirm the need for ensure remedy also in cross-border and value chain settings.

It is striking, then, that the EC’s proposed Regulation omits measures that would secure remedies for victims of forced labour. As is well-known, victims of forced labour face extreme difficulties in securing remediation, facing obstacles such as trauma, precarity, resource constraints, language barriers, lack of rights awareness and risks of reprisals. As remarked also by stakeholders, this lack of remedy perpetuates injustice, undermines the rule of law, exacerbates risks of re-victimisation and hence stands to frustrate the policy goals of the draft Regulation as well as broader EU and international human rights and sustainable development objectives.

Fixing the EU Regulation’s remedy gap: A package of proposals

The European Parliament is currently developing its position on the EC’s draft forced labour Regulation. There is therefore still time and opportunity to fix the failure of the EC’s draft to advance remedy for forced labour victims. As we analysed in our recently presented Briefing for the European Parliament, this goal might be promoted through the following mechanisms.

First, the Regulation should explicitly affirm the goal of preventing and remediating harm for victims. What after all is the point of EU legislation in this area, if not redressing the affront to human dignity and significant harm to human beings inflicted via exploitative labour practices?

Second, the draft Regulation should require economic operators to provide evidence of remediation as a condition of having bans or restrictions lifted. Such evidence could relate to, for example, financial and non-financial compensation; restitutionary measures; formal apologies or future-oriented preventative measures or guarantees of non-recurrence.

Third, the proposed EU Regulation could direct fines and administrative penalties into a trust fund for victims. This could then be drawn on to secure remediation in cases where perpetrators cannot be identified or fines enforced, well known obstacles to recuperating compensation where it has been awarded. Such a fund could draw lessons from and coordinate with existing initiatives, such as the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and Alliance 8.7.

Fourth, the foreseen Union Network Against Forced Labour Products (Article 24) should be leveraged to involve stakeholders in identifying cases of forced labour as well as monitoring and following up on the implementation of remediation. The network could also facilitate stakeholders in the process of evidence gathering for investigations as this can be a burdensome task for organisations with limited resources given the covert character of forced labour practices, and can dissuade them from pursuing legal action that would hold businesses accountable for forced labour practices. Given the latter, competent authorities should also have a duty to identify and inform potential victims, or their representatives, of the right to remediation in the course of investigations or remedial action.

Fifth, the Regulation should be articulated with other controls on market access. EU public procurement law already provides for exclusions from eligibility to bid for public contracts based on corporate misconduct and corruption and multi-lateral development banks operate a scheme of cross-debarment on a similar basis. Adverse determinations against businesses under the new EU Regulation should activate these or similar exclusions with the possibility, as under EU procurement law and debarment regimes, for ‘self-cleaning’ based on remediation for victims as well as improvements to business systems.


Ten years ago more than 1,110 garment workers lost their lives in the Rana Plaza disaster. Despite some advances, today millions of workers across the world and their families still suffer the immediate and long-terms consequences of serious breaches of minimum labour, health, safety, and environmental standards. Even in cases where activists and workers have won remediation for victims , the risk of reoccurrence and re-victimisation remains high. An unequivocal commitment in principle to securing remedies for forced labour victims, as EU actors claim, is therefore crucial. By integrating the measures outlined here into the draft Regulation, we suggest, the EU would help to put that principle into practice.

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