Mounting Legal Risks for Companies and Governments Failing to Address Forced Labor
30 April 2021
KnowTheChain’s monthly newsletter shares worker perspectives, the latest from the KnowTheChain team, and updates and resources on forced labor in supply chains in the business and human rights sphere.
Migrant Forum in Asia’s latest report, “Crying Out for Justice: Wage Theft Against Migrant Workers During COVID-19,” documents more than 700 cases of wage theft. The report is part of the initiative’s Justice for Wage Theft campaign which appeals to countries of origin and destination, companies, and employers to redress the plight of millions of migrant workers who report their wages have not been paid during the pandemic. One worker reported: “When I was staying in Qatar during the pandemic, they did not pay me my salary for 7 months. They said they cannot pay as they are already providing for my food and accommodation.”
Reports emerged of sixty-four Indian workers in the UAE who were rescued from confinement in one room after paying recruitment fees to an agent and having their passports retained. One worker said that the workers had provided their entire savings to pay the fees. Workers reported they were given food only once a day and on one occasion when workers asked for their passports to be returned, they were beaten and threatened with deportation.
KnowTheChain’s latest briefing highlights the gap between company policies on the responsible recruitment of migrant workers and their implementation. The analysis shows that of the 180 largest global high-risk companies across the electronics, food, and apparel sectors, 53% prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees in their supply chains, yet only 13% provide evidence of implementation. It also noted that some members of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Fair Labor Association, and the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment are not living up to the commitments they made. Explore company-specific findings and case studies.
Forced Labor: The Latest Developments
A lawsuit was filed against the apparel and footwear companies Inditex, Skechers, SMCP, and Uniqlo for allegedly concealing the use of forced labor.
Germany’s health sector sourced rubber gloves allegedly produced under forced labor conditions from major Malaysian manufacturers including Top Glove, Supermax, and Hartalega. Top Glove was earlier issued with a forced labor finding by the US Customs and Border Protection, enabling it to seize the goods, and made commitments to repay workers recruitment fees. Meanwhile the UK government may face legal action over its procurement of Malaysian rubber gloves linked to forced labor.
For further news on forced labor in relation to business and human rights see the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website.
Re:structure Lab published a report highlighting the ineffectiveness of transparency legislation in influencing corporate behavior and addressing forced labor in global supply chains. It calls for the introduction of mandatory human rights due diligence legislation and states that governments should reform existing legislation where it exists, with added criminal, civil, and administrative accountability for inadequate reporting.
Find It, Fix It, Prevent It, a coalition of investors with US$10 trillion in assets under management has called on UK-listed companies in the construction and materials sector to identify forced labor risks in their supply chains.