Statement on Contemporary forms of Slavery in Supply Chains

September 17, 2015

WILPF welcomes this report by the SR on contemporary forms of slavery and its focus on contemporary forms of slavery in supply chains.

Regardless of some international normative efforts to end human rights violations committed by Corporations, 20.9 million people are in a forced labour situation, of which 5.5 million are children. An estimated 5 to15 per cent of those are working in supply chains. Women are also particularly vulnerable to slavery and forced labour considering the context of gender inequality.

Recognition of Extraterritorial Obligations

The report finds that slavery occurs owing to a combination of a demand for products at ever-lower prices and a search for highest profit possible. It also cites the lack of extraterritorial obligations and jurisdiction as a major obstacle to accessing remedies.

Corporations at the top of the supply chain exercise control of the entire process. The majority of these corporations’ production chains are based in a country different to that where the human right violation is taking place. In this way, corporations can avoid responsibility.

It is essential to recognise the extraterritorial obligations of States in which these corporations are registered. States must uphold their obligations to ensure that their corporations will not violate human rights, within or outside their territory in order to ensure access to justice, remedy and accountability.

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights mentioned in the report are a positive first step in that they have lead to some successful domestic legislation. It must, however, not be forgotten, that these are non-binding principles.

United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies are increasingly recognising the extraterritorial obligations enshrined in their human rights conventions. The Committee on the Rights of the Child in General Comment 16 on State obligations regarding the impact of business sector on children’s rights reiterates the obligation to ensure private actors do not violate human rights, inside or outside the territory of the State. The same principle can be found in CEDAW General Recommendation 28.

The Treaty Process on TNCs and other business enterprises and HR

This Council started in resolution 26/9 a process to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate – in international human rights law – the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The multiple gaps that exist in the current regulatory system lead to human rights violations committed with impunity by corporations everyday. These could be addressed in a binding treaty.

Madam Special Rapporteur, how can the current treaty process contribute to ending slavery in supply chains and what recommendations would you make to the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group?

Slavery and forced labour Transnational Companies Human Rights Council Statement

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