As the leading group of democracies representing half the global economy, the Group of Seven (G7) has both the opportunity and responsibility to take action to tackle forced labor. Even as G7 countries work to collectively respond to multiple global crises, including Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, there is a recognition that forced labor continues to be a significant challenge within the global economy. Over 27 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labor, 17 million of whom are in the private sector and nearly 4 million of whom are in state-sponsored forced labor. Effectively combatting this crime will require a sustained, coordinated response by G7 members.
What work has been done so far by the G7 to address forced labor?
To date, the G7 has made some noteworthy steps. The October 2021 Leaders Communiqué highlighted the problem of forced labor in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labor, and it tasked G7 Trade Ministers with identifying opportunities where members could work together towards the goal of eradicating all forms of forced labor.
Since that initial statement, G7 Trade Ministers have begun working to fulfill this mandate. In addition to issuing their own statements reaffirming that forced labor has no place in global supply chains, Trade Ministers have committed to:
- promoting guidance on human rights due diligence;
- promoting common definitions and guidance on the collection and sharing of data and evidence;
- facilitating better compliance with international labor standards and international standards on responsible business conduct; and
- continuing and strengthening collaboration between member states.
In addition to the work that has started across the entire G7 membership, we also are beginning to see further bilateral and trilateral efforts among G7 states. For example, in 2022 the Trade and Labor Ministers from the US, Japan, and the EU issued a joint statement on the International Labour Organization’s 2022 Global Forced Labour Estimates. In the statement, the trilateral representatives reaffirmed their commitment to ending forced labor, and in addition they emphasized the need to develop measures including due diligence standards.
Following this, in 2023 the US and Japan launched a joint task force focused on promoting human rights and international labor standards in global supply chains. As part of the task force’s efforts, the two countries committed to sharing information on laws and policies, supporting dialogue between businesses and worker organizations, and promoting best practices on due diligence.
What are the recommendations for the G7?
While we applaud the important initial steps already taken, the G7 must continue working to develop and implement concrete steps to actualize the commitments that have been made. We recommend three specific ways the G7 can more effectively combat forced labor.
1. Utilize import bans and controls to target products made by forced labor
Forced labor is a global problem, and each country including G7 members must improve policies and practices to stop this abuse within their own borders. At the same time, as the International Labour Organization notes, most individuals trapped in forced labor are outside of G7 states. Yet while these individuals may be in other countries, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that goods imported into G7 countries may be produced by these people in forced labor.
To address this challenge, G7 members should develop import bans, controls, and other trade mechanisms to prevent goods made by forced labor from being brought into their borders. By preventing access to lucrative G7 markets for these tainted goods, member states can help incentivize changes in global supply chain practices. Furthermore, to maximize impact, we need these bans and controls to be widespread, and G7 states also must work with non-G7 countries to implement similar measures. Rather than tainted goods being denied entry into one market but then simply imported somewhere else, there should be no safe harbor anywhere for goods made by forced labor. Additionally, in cases like China which utilizes state-sponsored forced labor to enhance its own economic power at the expense of democratic governments, stopping the import of these goods is an important way the G7 and other democracies can push back against autocratic regimes seeking to undermine the democratic order.
2. Adopt and implement mandatory human rights due diligence standards
Companies have a responsibility to make sure their supply chains do not utilize forced labor, and, if instances of abuse are discovered, to provide full remediation to the harmed workers. While some companies have made more progress than others in making transparent, verifiable steps towards this objective, more progress across the board needs to be made.
To facilitate this, G7 nations should adopt and implement mandatory human rights due diligence standards that create real accountability for companies that do not prevent or take responsibility for human rights abuses within their supply chains. Some G7 countries have begun taken steps to this end, but we need the entire G7 to advance these types of measures. While the variety of existing legal frameworks and political realities within G7 member states may require some different approaches in practice, the G7 should try to coordinate standards in order to provide greater certainty and clarity for companies, which will increase the likelihood for effective implementation that actually accomplishes the objective of stopping abuses within supply chains.
3. Establish a standing G7 working group
Given the enormity of the challenge forced labor poses, the G7 should establish a standing working group dedicated to identifying workable solutions. Creating a more permanent structure to house these efforts will allow for the focused, long-term approach required to make the kind of progress needed.