Human Rights and Modern Slavery: The Obligations of States and Corporations in Relation to Forced Labour in Global Supply Chains

Rose Ireland


Despite slavery being criminalised globally, modern slavery is widespread, affecting nearly every country in the world. Forced labour within corporate global supply chains is a particularly elusive form of modern slavery that has seldom been addressed until recent years. The risk of forced labour occurring in global supply chains is exacerbated by the ‘governance gap’ in which multinational corporations operate. This article will critically analyse the application of an international soft law instrument established to address this gap – the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (‘UNGP’) – to the issue of forced labour within corporate global supply chains. It will evaluate the potential of each of the three ‘pillars’ outlined in the UNGPs in combating forced labour and examine practical examples of efforts made by states and corporations to address forced labour that amount to implementation of the UNGPs, drawing on practice in the United States and the United Kingdom in particular. It will be concluded that the UNGPs are a valuable weapon in the fight against modern slavery, but that effective implementation will be challenging. A multi-pronged approach is required, mobilising state and corporate actors and incorporating both voluntary and mandatory measures that are mutually reinforcing.


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