The European Union is debating regulations that would prohibit the sale of goods made with forced labor, which could have profound consequences for chocolate and other food products.
The proposed regulations would require EU regulators to assess allegations of forced labor at any point in the supply chain, domestic or foreign, of any product. If a product is found to have been produced or distributed by forced labor, it would be prohibited in all 27 EU nations. The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, issued the proposed regulations in late September; the EU is currently taking comments on it.
More than 27 million people across the world are victimized by forced labor, according to the Borgen Project, a nonprofit that specializes in contemporary slavery. In the food sector, forced labor has been a chronic problem in cocoa production. The majority of the world’s supply comes from West Africa, where reports of forced labor, especially by underaged workers, have persisted for decades.
The EU’s proposed regulations take somewhat after recent U.S. regulations that target goods from western China, where the Chinese government has been accused of brutal repression of the region’s Uyghur minority. Those regulations place the burden of proof on companies exporting from that area. The assumption is that goods from there are produced with coerced labor, and it is up to individual companies to prove they’re not.
The proposed EU rule would shift that burden from companies to governments, leaving it up to local authorities to prove that their countries do not use slave labor. Some advocates have criticized that approach, saying it would be too easy for countries to game the system, and are calling for the stricter American standard.