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EU ban on products made with forced and child labour imminent

Corporate Advisory, ESG & Sustainability

EU ban on products made with forced and child labour imminent

This article provides an overview of the key elements of the EU’s proposed new regulation banning products made with forced labour from being placed and made available in the EU or exporting from the EU.

Tue 09 Jul 2024

10 min read

The EU’s proposed new regulation banning products made with forced labour (the Regulation) is expected to be finalised in the coming months and to apply across the EU from late 2027. This landmark law was proposed by the European Commission (the Commission) on 14 September 2022 and political agreement between the Council of the EU (the Council) and the European Parliament (the Parliament) was announced on 5 March 2024. The Parliament formally adopted the Regulation at its final plenary in April, but it has yet to be adopted by the Council. The Council’s representative body, COREPER, signed off on the negotiated text on 14 March and the Council is expected to adopt the Regulation in September.

Comparisons may be drawn between the Regulation and the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act enacted in the US in 2023 to prohibit the importation into the US of all products coming from the Xinjiang region of China. While China was certainly on the minds of EU lawmakers in drafting the Regulation, the scope of the Regulation is much broader than its US counterpart and is not confined to products from a particular geographical region.

What is forced labour?

Forced labour is defined in the Regulation by reference to the International Labour Organisation’s 1930 Convention on Forced Labour. Article 2 of the Convention defines it as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily". The definition in the Regulation now also expressly includes child labour, which was omitted from the Commission’s proposal (any subsequent reference to ‘forced labour’ in this article includes child labour).

What is in scope?

The Regulation lays down rules prohibiting “economic operators” from placing and making available on the EU market, or exporting from the EU, products made with forced labour. Any individual, company or business, whether EU or non-EU, may be an economic operator for the purposes of the Regulation where they are selling goods in, or exporting goods from, the EU. Unlike with other sustainability legislation, there is no exemption or de minimis threshold for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, the nature and size of the enterprise involved will be taken into account in assessing the risk of forced labour in a given situation.

The prohibition will apply to products regardless of their sector or origin, whether they are made within or outside the EU. The concept of a ‘product’ is broadly defined: any product that can be valued in money is within scope, whether it is extracted, harvested, produced or manufactured. The extent of the Regulation’s application is also wide. It applies to “any supply of a product for distribution, consumption or use on the Union market in the course of a commercial activity, whether in return for payment or free of charge” and includes “working or processing related to a product at any stage of its supply chain”. There is some doubt, however, as to whether logistical processes, such as transport and distribution, are covered by the Regulation.

How will the Regulation operate?

The task of enforcing the Regulation will fall on the competent authorities designated by each EU Member State, each of which will be charged with investigating forced labour in their respective jurisdiction. Where the suspected forced labour is taking place within the jurisdiction of a Member State, the competent authority of that jurisdiction will lead the investigation (although the Regulation provides for cooperation and information-sharing between authorities). The Commission will take the lead only if the suspected forced labour is taking place outside the EU.

The main tool of enforcement will be one of investigation, which will have two main phases: the preliminary and the formal investigation.

Preliminary investigation - risk-based approach

At the preliminary stage, the competent authority must follow a risk-based approach to assess the likelihood that forced labour is involved. The economic operator will be afforded the opportunity to cooperate and provide the authority with information on its supply chain and due diligence policies and procedures. The competent authority shall apply the following criteria, as appropriate, in order to prioritise products suspected to have been made with forced labour:

  1. scale and severity of the suspected forced labour, including whether forced labour imposed by state authorities could be a concern
  2. quantity or volume of products placed or made available on the EU market
  3. share of the part suspected to have been made with forced labour in the final product

Competent authorities are expected to focus on the economic operators involved “as close as possible to where the risk of forced labour is likely to occur” and to take into account the size and economic resources of the economic operators. The administrative burden on SMEs is specifically being considered here. The economic operator will also be given the opportunity to identify, mitigate, prevent and bring to an end the risk of forced labour (echoing the language of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, CSDDD). At this stage of the process, the competent authority cannot compel a business to refrain from selling a potentially offending product.

Formal investigation

To move to the next stage and open a formal investigation, the competent authority must be satisfied that there is a “substantiated concern” of forced labour. This must be “a well-founded reason, based on objective and verifiable information”. The competent authority must inform the economic operator, within three working days of the decision to investigate being taken, of:

Where requested to do so, an economic operator under investigation must submit, within 15 days of the request, “any information that is relevant and necessary for the investigation, including information identifying the products under investigation, the manufacturer or producer of those products and the product suppliers”.

Competent authorities may carry out all necessary checks and inspections, including investigations in third countries, provided that the economic operators concerned give their consent and the government of the Member State or non-EU country has been officially notified and raises no objection.

The Regulation does not set out a timeframe within which an investigation must be carried out, but it provides that it should be completed “within a reasonable period of time” from the date of initiation.


Where a competent authority establishes that products made with forced labour have been placed on the EU market, or are being exported from the EU, it will adopt a decision containing:

  1. a prohibition on placing or making available on the EU market, or exporting, the offending products
  2. an order directing the economic operator to withdraw the offending products from the EU market
  3. an order directing the economic operator to dispose of the offending products in accordance with national and EU law

Disposal shall be done by recycling the products or, when that is not possible, by rendering the products inoperable. Perishable products should be donated to charity where possible. The decision of a competent authority will be recognised and implemented by all other Member States according to the principle of mutual recognition.

Impact on customs

The Regulation applies without prejudice to any other EU laws governing customs risk management, controls and the release for free circulation of goods and export. The lead competent authority must “without delay” inform EU customs authorities of any decision prohibiting the placing or making available of a product on the EU market or for export. Customs authorities will then carry out controls on products entering or leaving the EU based on customs risk management procedures. Cooperation between competent authorities, the Commission and customs authorities will be essential to the smooth operation of the Regulation and the Commission will take on a coordination role in this regard.

Remedying a breach

Economic operators affected by a decision have the possibility of requesting a review of that decision at any time. The request for a review shall contain new information which demonstrates that the products are in compliance with the Regulation (i.e. that there is no longer any forced labour involved).

Where the competent authority is satisfied that the economic operators have provided evidence that they have eliminated forced labour from their operations or supply chain with respect to the products concerned, the competent authority shall withdraw its decision for the future, inform the economic operators of this and update public records.


Competent authorities will have to take into account the proportion of a product that is likely to be made with forced labour in the final product. If a component of a product is found to be in breach of the Regulation and this component can be replaced, the direction to dispose of the offending product will be applicable only to the offending component. The Council’s press release gives the example of a car component versus a sauce. If a car component is produced with forced labour, only that specific part must be disposed of, not the entire car. By contrast, if the tomatoes in a food sauce are harvested using forced labour, the entire food product must be discarded because it is impossible to separate the tomatoes from the final product.

The Council and the Parliament also agreed that the competent authority may refrain from ordering disposal where this is necessary to prevent “disruptions of a supply chain of strategic or critical importance for the Union”. In such cases, the lead competent authority may instead order the product to be withheld for a defined period of time, at the cost of the economic operator, to allow for forced labour to be eliminated.

Next steps

It is anticipated that the Council will formally adopt the Regulation in September; after which it will be signed into law and published in the Official Journal of the EU. It will apply across the EU three years after this, likely in late 2027.

The Commission is tasked with completing a significant amount of preparatory work before then, including drafting implementing acts and guidelines, setting up a database of forced labour risks and establishing a Union Network Against Forced Labour Products to facilitate cooperation and collaboration between the Commission, competent authorities and other relevant bodies.

What must businesses do now?

The Regulation does not impose additional due diligence obligations on businesses and will instead complement and operate alongside existing and future due diligence obligations (such as those contained in CSDDD).

While those businesses in scope of CSDDD may have already turned their minds to such matters, any business that sells products within, or exports products from, the EU should conduct a thorough assessment of operations throughout their supply chain to ensure compliance with the Regulation. They should also ensure all documentation is in order in case they are called upon to answer an investigation by a competent authority. Once the Regulation applies, delays in clearance of products through customs are also expected and businesses should anticipate requests from customs authorities for additional information on certain products.

For more information in relation to this topic, please contact Anne O'Neill, Senior Knowledge Executive, Jill Shaw, ESG & Sustainability Lead or visit our ESG & Sustainability hub.

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