Better Anti-Trafficking Policies? The potential of demand-side measures

Better Anti-Trafficking Policies? The potential of demand-side measures

April 2016

Madalina Rogoz & Albert Kraler



Earlier this year the US President signed the Trade Facilitation and Enforcement Act, amending the 1930 US Tariff Act (see also an article by the Guardian here). The 1930 law already outlawed the import of goods made with forced or

indentured labour and amendments in 1997 and 2009 had already added prohibitions on goods made through coercion, goods made by victims of human trafficking and child labour. The most recent amendment removed loopholes that still existed for goods for which otherwise no sufficient supply would be available, for example Cocoa products. Thus, despite reports of widespread use of child slave labour in cocoa production, cocoa products were not included in the list of prohibited items in a 1997 amendment specifically focusing on prohibiting goods made of child forced labour. Although the latter had given rise to a voluntary agreement amongst major cocoa producers, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana as major cocoa producing countries and the US (the so called Harkin-Engel Protocol or Cocoa Protocol of 2001), the voluntary nature of the agreement arguably makes it inherently less effective than an outright ban on goods made through prohibited forms of child labour.

DemandAT researcher Siobhan McGrath, who is leading research on supply chain initiatives within the DemandAT project, comments: “The act could be a really important tool for use by advocates and workers in the way that the Dirty List has been used in Brazil, one which is potentially more effective than transparency legislation”. She adds, however, that “we need to be cautious of its instrumental use as a protectionist measure. This is particularly significant because it covers imports of products made through 'convict labour' - while of course products made within the US from convict labour are not covered. Here too, we need a critical debate on the use of coerced labour within the US".

Since 2009, every other year, a list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour is been released by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) within the US Department of Labor. The aim of this list is to raise awareness among the general public regarding child and forced labour and ‘it is not intended to be punitive, but rather to serve as a catalyst for more strategic and focused coordination and collaboration among those working to address these problems’. In addition to goods produced though forced labour, the list provides information on their source countries. At new entries, the 2014 List includes garments from Bangladesh, alcoholic beverages from Cambodia among those produced with child labour and electronics form Malaysia among goods produced through forced labour. The limitations of this list, acknowledged by ILAB, resides in the fact that listing a product from a particular country does not mean that all production of that good in the country is made by child labour or forced labour. Following the amendment of the Tariff Act, an additional question raised is how this list will be then used in the implementation of the Act, if at all.

Both instruments are examples of demand-side measures against trafficking, forced labour and other prohibited forms of labour. DemandAT Working Paper No.6 provides an empirical analysis of such measures in 12 national contexts (covering 9 EU MS, the US, Brazil and Nigeria). Generally, penal and labour regulations, proscribing under which conditions labour should be offered and foreseeing a range of sanctions in case of non-compliance were found to be by far the most widely used instruments to address labour exploitation.  Yet there is in principle a wide array of tools for steering societal behaviour beyond traditional command and control types of policies involving the threat of force and high levels of intrusiveness into the lives of citizens, groups or organisations operating on the territory of that particular state. Partly originating in debates about “smart(er) regulation” there is a number of soft policy instruments aimed at steering societal behaviour in subtler ways (see DemandAT Working Paper No.4 for a discussion). Offering positive incentives, such as tax breaks, for individuals and organisations to take certain actions (market based approach), educating the general public with regard to labour exploitation (peer pressure kind of measures) or designing the access to options in particular ways which determines people’s choices (policy by design) are some of the less intrusive policy instruments available to governments for steering societal behaviour.

The recent US Tariff Act amendment is a good example of a policy instrument particularly aimed at demand for goods produced through forced labour, both through command and control (a prohibition) and though design (ensuring that consumers won’t be able to purchase certain goods, as goods ‘produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor under penal sanctions shall not be entitled to entry at any of the ports of the United States’).

The two examples from the US are in fact two of the very few demand-side measures explicitly tackling trafficking for labour exploitation or forced labour more generally that our research found. Most measures mapped in the course of our research have a broader focus, for example, in that they focus on broader undesirable phenomena which may involve situations of exploitation and trafficking such as illegal employment or irregular migration. Or broader anti-trafficking measures include demand-side elements without specifically focusing on demand. Most demand-side measures typically also combine different regulatory logics (e.g. peer pressure with command and control, and so on).  

Overall, the research shows that relatively few countries have more elaborated demand-side policies and that there is still a great potential to expand the tool box used to address demand in the context of trafficking for labour exploitation, forced labour and other severe forms of exploitation, in principle and across countries. A major argument for supplementing more traditional policy approaches based on penal and labour law is that there is an inherent limitation in states’ capacity to enforce rules and that it therefore makes sense to invest in policies that play on the responsiveness of actors, companies, and other actors to a variety of incentives and disincentives. The empirical impact and therefore role of particular measures in helping to address trafficking and other exploitative practices remains to be seen. What seems clear however is that more subtle forms of demand-side regulation complement rather than substitute the more traditional approaches.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily express the views of the DemandAT project consortium as whole.