Forced Labour Committee grapples with modernising 84 year old convention

One of the key questions before the International Labour Conference (ILC) this year is how to reform the Forced Labour Convention. Originally adopted in 1930, Convention 29 is widely considered by delegates to be in need of change to help the millions of people affected by forced labour globally.

Audio | 06 June 2014
The Committee on forced labour gets down to work on agreeing changes to a proposed protocol and recommendation that aims to bring the ILO forced labour Convention of 1930 into the modern era.

In hall 18 of the UN Palais des Nations, along with over 200 delegates to the ILC, sit the committee chair and government representative, David Garner, the employer representative vice chair, Ed Potter, and the worker representative vice chair, Yves Veyrier.  Among them they consider the more than two hundred amendments to the draft protocol and recommendation.

If adopted by the International Labour Conference, the proposed Protocol would supplement Convention 29 on forced labour and the recommendation would provide guidance on its implementation.

The outcome will not be known until all government, employer and worker delegates to the Conference vote on Wednesday the 11th of June. However there has been broad agreement in the Committee that its time, one way or another, to supplement the more than 80 year-old Convention.

Ed Potter, the employers’ representative to the committee explains:
"The convention in 1930 was negotiated in a colonial era and that was the primary concern of the conference. We are now in a modern era where ILO statistics clearly show that most of the forced labour occurring in the world is a private sector phenomenon and Convention 29 doesn't provide any perspective on how a nation state would go about eliminating and eradicating forced labour in that context."

And as a recent report by the ILO made clear, the problem itself is by no means an historic one.

Committee chair David Garner: "there still is a very significant problem which we confront in this day and age. Around 21 million people are estimated to be in forced labour and a recent report from the ILO suggests annual profits are in the region around 150 billion dollars".

Against this backdrop and in the lead up to the conference delegates have been considering just how best to move forward at the ILC. As David Garner explained governments, along with worker and employer groups were asked to respond to a survey on the issue and it was clear from the outset that not all were in accord:

"Some of the governments were of the mind right from the start that this should be a legally binding mechanism. Others preferred the option of a recommendation, which they said would give them some more flexibility within their own nation systems to address forced labour".

Yves Veyrier, the workers' delegate to the committee argues that norms, like the Convention of 1930 can have not only a judicial impact but help also educate people on both sides of the equation, about forced labour:

"Prevention protocols can, for example, take the shape of information, education, not only for the populations that are affected by forced labour - who can be victims – but also enterprises and employers in a general way so that they themselves are warned against the risk they face if they act, sometimes without really paying attention to it, and become users of forced labour."

Reporting for the ILO in Geneva, this is Pete Forster