UK commitment to end forced labour: important step forward, threatened by changes to labour inspection

Blog22 Jan 2016

Today the UK became the third country in the world to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Protocol on Forced Labour. In doing so, it joined Norway and Niger in committing to prevent forced labour and to protect all workers from exploitation. The UK Government’s commitment is a significant step forward in the global fight against forced labour, and it is hoped will encourage other countries to follow suit.

The Protocol builds on the widely supported but limited commitment to end forced labour in the Forced Labour Convention of 1930. It adds requirements for governments to prevent forced labour by raising awareness, addressing the causes of exploitation, and by strengthening legislation to tackle labour exploitation. Importantly it emphasises the need to both support and protect victims of forced labour.

In ratifying the Protocol the UK has signalled that it already complies with its requirements, yet some aspects of the Protocol still require the Government’s attention. The Protocol calls for a strengthened labour inspection system and yet the UK Immigration Bill, making its way through Parliament at the moment, threatens to weaken labour inspection in the UK. These changes proposed to the UK’s main labour inspectorate, the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA) would reduce its oversight role and ask it to do much more on less, threatening its ability to prevent exploitation. The changes put forward by the Government risk immediately undermining their laudable new commitments on forced labour.

Since the creation of the Protocol in June 2014, the ILO has launched a campaign to encourage countries to sign up to the commitments therein. The 50 for Freedom campaign, of which FLEX is a partner, was launched in October 2015 to gather support and create public pressure for governments to ratify. It is hoped that the UK Government’s decision to ratify will add to the weight of pressure for governments around the world to step up and make similar commitments.

The UK Government’s ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour today provides a solid foundation for future efforts to address forced labour both in the UK and overseas. FLEX looks forward to working with the Government to monitor and implement its commitments to protect all workers in all forms of work from suffering labour exploitation.