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Effectiveness of forced labour import bans

Policy briefing analysing the evidence base on and effectiveness of forced labour import bans.

Published: 15th July 2021

This briefing was updated on 15 December 2021 to reflect the latest developments in this area.

This Modern Slavery PEC Policy Brief is the first in a series of Policy Briefs to assess the evidence base on the effectiveness of different regulatory interventions to address modern slavery in global supply chains, a key research priority for the Modern Slavery PEC, as set out in our Strategy. This Brief focuses on the effectiveness of forced labour import bans.

There is ongoing interest from governments and Parliaments globally about the role of import bans in addressing forced labour in global value chains. The US has recently revised and begun to actively implement longstanding legislation on forced labour import bans – particularly amid reports of widespread forced labour and other human rights abuses affecting Uyghurs and other Turkic- and Muslim-majority groups in Xinjiang, China, but not confined to that context. There is, however, limited reference to relevant evidence in these debates, particularly on the effectiveness of import ban as measures intended to address forced labour.

Key findings:

  • Forced labour import bans are actions that stop goods produced abroad at the port of entry if forced labour is suspected in their production. They are provided for by legislation and enforced by government authorities. A current example is in the US, where bans have been in place since 2016.
  • There is limited evidence on the effectiveness of import bans. They are resource-intensive tools and their effectiveness can be influenced by factors such as market share. There is some evidence for short-term changes, but long-term effectiveness is unclear.
  • There is especially limited evidence of potential wider consequences such as geopolitical tensions. Available literature suggests the broader the scope of the ban, the more likely it is to have unintended consequences.
  • The drivers of forced labour in supply chains are complex and a single regulatory intervention is unlikely to effectively reduce forced labour on its own in a sustainable way.

Authors: Irene Pietropaoli, Owain Johnstone and Alex Balch.