As we close the year by marking the annual International Human Rights Day, it is helpful to reflect on the past year to understand where we have come in our fight against forced labour, and to look forward to see where we still need to advance. With an estimated 25 million people trapped in cases of forced labour worldwide, progressive, accelerated action is needed to address the systemic causes of this global problem and to take meaningful action against it. This year, we saw some trends pointing towards positive progress made against the endemic issue of forced labour, which are supported by The Consumer Goods Forum’s Human Rights Coalition — Working to End Forced Labour (HRC):

Making Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) the norm. Many countries are joining the HRDD movement and introducing legislation that requires companies to employ HRDD systems in their supply chains. Germany and the European Union follow the France by introducing such legislation, and Australia follows the United Kingdom in developing legislation on modern slavery rerporting. The CGF HRC supports this movement with its own Maturity Journey Framework for HRDD Systems in Members’ Own Operations, which maps how companies can implement and improve these critical systems in their own operations with a specific focus on forced labour issues/risks. The CGF also supported a new due diligence tool developed by the UN to support the wellbeing of seafarers, who continue to remain disproportionately affected by the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Due diligence systems are one of our strongest approaches to deploy in order for companies to identify, remedy and prevent human rights risks.

Increasing the ‘burden of proof’ for companies. Over the course of the year, we saw multiple cases of imported goods being banned by national customs officers due to the suspected use of forced labour and or child labour in their manufacture. As we heard from The J.M. Smucker Company earlier this year, import bans such as those from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are putting pressure on companies to demonstrate full supply chain transparency and awareness of human rights risks, which can be a challenge given the global nature of many companies’ supply chains. This is helpful pressure, however — for, as we have said earlier this year, only through having true awareness of forced labour risks in companies’ supply chains and own operations can we take meaningful action against them.

Addressing forced labour in the agriculture sector and transforming the world’s food systems. The relationship between forced labour, human rights and the agricultural sector was in the spotlight this year, as we saw cases such as the US ban on tomatoes from Mexico and the call from the United Nations for Italy to focus on forced labour risks in the sector. These came alongside the first-ever UN Food Systems Summit, which was held in September and as our Managing Director Wai-Chan Chan wrote about sustainable food systems: “The intertwined relationship between business, the environment and society is clearer than ever: no businesses can thrive unless the wider communities and the places where it operates are thriving as well.” It’s incredibly important that we continue to connect the dots and consider social and environmental issues as not separate issues, but closely interrelated ones, like our members Carrefour and Nestlé wrote about deforestation.

Building a dialogue on responsible recruitment and repayment of recruitment fees. As our second Priority Industry Principle lays out, No Worker Should Pay for a Job. The dialogue on responsible recruitment and how we can address unethical practices such as the employment of recruitment fees is growing. With tools like Impactt’s updated Guidelines and Principles for the Repayment of Migrant Worker Fees and Related Costs, companies are becoming more empowered than ever before to take on this issue and ensure the sustainability of their supply chains and own operations.

Ratifying the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Forced Labour. Malaysia and Japan both agreed to ratify the ILO’s Protocol 29 against forced labour, marking a significant milestone in both countries’ commitments to tackle this issue. We look forward to engaging with these governments on the issue of forced labour, especially as our Japan Sustainability Local Group advances on its objectives, and the CGF HRC works with the Fair Labour Association and the International Organisation for Migration on forced labour risks within the palm oil sector and migration corridors in Malaysia.

As we approach 2022, we look forward to seeing these trends evolve as the global labour landscape continues to change, whether due to the development of additional legislations, the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, or increased awareness of human rights risks thanks to the implementation of stronger due diligence systems. The HRC, now consisting of 27 members — headquartered from Indonesia to Switzerland, with operations around the world — will continue to advance on its objectives to take individual and collective actions against forced labour, but it can’t achieve these objectives on their own. We look forward to another year of collaboration and collective action, and we encourage everyone to join us.