New ILO Treaty on Forced Labor Victims

New ILO Treaty on Forced Labor Victims

With all the talk of the End of Treaties and Treaty Survival, it’s worth noting that the wheels of multilateral treaty-making have not come to a complete stop.  Earlier today, the ILO adopted a Protocol to ILO Convention No. 29, the 1930 Forced Labour Convention.  On paper, the 1930 Convention was a success — it currently has 177 parties.  But it’s also considered outdated within the human rights community, which has emphasized the continuing and significant costs of forced labor in humanitarian and economic terms, necessitating new legal tools to limit or mitigate the effects of this horrible practice.

Some of the 2014 Protocol’s provisions are standard treaty fare on modern global problems — i.e., requiring “national” plans of action and domestic legislation on forced labor issues.  Other provisions reflect the need to update the 84 year old Convention itself (i.e., deleting provisions on forced labor in overseas “colonies”).  The heart of the treaty appears to be Article 4:

Article 4
1. Each Member shall ensure that all victims of forced or compulsory labour, irrespective of their presence or legal status in the national territory, have access to appropriate and effective remedies, such as compensation.

2. Each Member shall, in accordance with the basic principles of its legal system, take the necessary measures to ensure that competent authorities are entitled not to prosecute or impose penalties on victims of forced or compulsory labour for their involvement in unlawful activities which they have been compelled to commit as a direct consequence of being subjected to forced or compulsory labour.

I’d be interested in reactions from those who follow the ILO and forced labor subjects more closely. Is this Protocol significant in the ongoing efforts to deal with human trafficking and forced labor? How important is the expansion of the right to relief to include migrants who might otherwise be labeled “illegal” via their immigration status?  And is the “entitlement not to prosecute” that significant a requirement?  It presumably still gives State authorities the ability to prosecute forced labor victims engaged in ‘unlawful’ behavior like sex work or drug offenses even if they were coerced into doing so. Thus, it seems more like an aspirational goal than a provision that will mandate changes in State behavior. Comments most welcome.

General, International Human Rights Law, Organizations
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Maria Victoria Cabrera
Maria Victoria Cabrera

The adoption by the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (No. 29) confirms that multilateral law-making can still be effective when it comes to protecting human dignity. However, it is important to take into consideration that within the ILO, conventions and recommendations are elaborated and adopted on a tripartite basis among states, workers and employers organisations. Even though Convention No. 29’s original purpose was to supress the compulsory labour of native workers, a practice that still existed in certain non-self-governing territories during the first half of the twentieth century, it was drafted in such a way as to apply to other forms of forced labour. Recently, for example, on the basis of Convention No. 29, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) requested that the Government of Malaysia reinforces its efforts to suppress human trafficking. In a similar vein, the CEACR urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to take actions to protect migrant domestic workers from abusive practices. The point I want to put forward is that the adopted Protocol strengthens the role of Convention No. 29 as a legal tool that can still be used to… Read more »