Principle Four: Labour

Businesses should uphold the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour.

What does it mean?

Forced or compulsory labour is any work or service that is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty, and for which that person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily. Providing wages or other compensation to a worker does not necessarily indicate that the labour is not forced or compulsory. By right, labour should be freely given and employees should be free to leave in accordance with established rules.

Why should companies care?

Forced labour not only constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights, it also deprives societies of the opportunity to develop skills and human resources, and to educate children for the labour markets of tomorrow. So the debilitating consequences of forced labour are not only felt by individuals, and in particular children, but also by society and the economy at large. By holding back the proper development of human resources, forced labour lowers the level of productivity and results in less secure investments and slower economic growth. The loss of income due to disruption of regular jobs or income-generating activities reduces the lifetime earnings of potential breadwinners and is thus likely to lead to the loss of food, shelter, and health care of whole families.

While companies operating legally do not normally employ such practices, forced labour can become associated with enterprises through their business links with others, including contractors and suppliers. As a result, all employers should be aware of the forms and causes of forced labour, as well as how it might occur in different industries.

Both state and private agents have been implicated in the use of forced labour. State-imposed labour includes compulsory participation in public works, and the imposition of forced labour for ideological or political purposes. Forced labour exploitation by private agents can take the forms of slavery, bonded labour or debt-bondage, and other types of coercion. Situations of forced labour are generally characterized by a lack of consent to work (the route into forced labour) and the menace of a penalty (the means of keeping someone in forced labour).

Employers need to be aware that forced labour can take a number of forms:

  • Slavery (i.e. by birth/ descent into “slave” or bonded status)
  • Bonded labour or debt bondage, an ancient practice still used in some countries where both adults and children are obliged to work in slave-like conditions to repay debts of their own or their parents or relatives
  • Child labour in particularly abusive conditions where the child has no choice about whether to work
  • Physical abduction or kidnapping
  • Sale of a person into the ownership of another
  • Physical confinement in the work location (in prison or in private detention)
  • The work or service of prisoners if they are hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations involuntarily and without supervision of public authorities
  • Labour for development purposes required by the authorities, for instance to assist in construction, agriculture, and other public works
  • Work required to punish opinion or expression of views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system
  • Exploitative practices such as forced overtime
  • The lodging of deposits (financial or personal documents) for employment
  • Physical or psychological (including sexual) violence as a means of keeping someone in forced labour (direct or as a threat against worker, family, or close associates)
  • Full or partial restrictions on freedom of movement
  • Withholding and non-payment of wages (linked to manipulated debt payments, exploitation, and other forms of extortion)
  • Deprivation of food, shelter or other necessities
  • Deception or false promises about terms and types of work
  • Induced indebtedness (by falsification of accounts, charging inflated prices, reduced value of goods or services produced, excessive interest charges, etc.)
  • Threats to denounce workers in an irregular situation to the authorities

What can companies do?

Organizations need to determine whether forced labour is a problem within their business sector and for their operations. It is important to mention that, although high profile cases are typically reported as occurring in developing countries, forced labour is also present in developed countries and should be viewed as a global issue. Understanding the causes of forced labour is the first step towards taking action against forced labour. Where forced labour is identified, the concerned individuals should be removed from work and facilities and services should be provided to enable them to make adequate alternatives. In general, a comprehensive set of interventions, including both workplace and community actions, is needed to help ensure the eradication of forced labour practices.

Here are some actions that companies can take:

In the workplace

  • Have a clear policy not to use, be complicit in, or benefit from forced labour;
  • Where adherence to forced labour provisions of national laws and regulations is insufficient, take account of international standards;
  • Ensure that all company officials have a full understanding of what forced labour is;
  • Make available employment contracts to all employees stating the terms and conditions of service, the voluntary nature of employment, the freedom to leave (including the appropriate procedures) and any penalties that may be associated with a departure or cessation of work;
  • Do not confiscate workers’ identity documents;
  • Prohibit business partners from charging recruitment fees to workers;
  • Write employment contracts in languages easily understood by workers, indicating the scope of and procedures for leaving the job;
  • Be aware of countries, regions, industries, sectors, or economic activities where forced labour is more likely to be a practice;
  • In planning and conducting business operations, ensure that workers in debt bondage or in other forms of forced labour are not engaged and, where found, provide for the removal of such workers from the workplace with adequate services and provision of viable alternatives;
  • Institute policies and procedures to prohibit the requirement that workers lodge financial deposits with the company;
  • If hiring prisoners for work in or outside prisons, ensure that their terms and conditions of work are similar to those of a free employment relationship in the sector involved, and that they have given their consent to work for a private employer;·
  • Ensure that large-scale development operations do not rely on forced labour in any phase; and
  • Carefully monitor supply chains and subcontracting arrangements.

In the community of operation

  • Establish or participate in a task force or committee on forced labour in your representative employers’ organization at the local, state or national level;
  • Work in partnership with other companies, sectoral associations and employers’ organizations to develop an industry-wide approach to address the issue, and build bridges with trade unions, law enforcement authorities, labour inspectorates and others;
  • Support and help design education, vocational training, and counseling programmes for children removed from situations of forced labour;
  • Help develop skills training and income-generating alternatives, including micro-credit financing programmes, for adults removed from situations of forced labour;
  • Encourage supplementary health and nutrition programmes for workers removed from dangerous forced labour, and provide medical care to assist those affected by occupational diseases and malnutrition as a result of their involuntary work; and
  • Where use is made of prison labour, ensure that the terms and conditions of work are beneficial to the prisoners (particularly with regard to occupational health and safety), and that they have given consent to work for a private employer.

From our Library

  • News