Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Fundamental Rights: EU: Article 5: Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-07-12

This is the sixth in a series of posts that will explore issues from the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the draft EU constitution (see official PDF or my reworking into HTML), and covers another article from the first chapter of the charter concerning dignity.

Article 5: Prohibition of slavery and forced labor

  1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
  2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
  3. Trafficking in human beings is prohibited.

At the front, I’ll note that this touches on issues in Chapter 2 (Freedoms) and Chapter 4 (Solidarity).

The third point is actually the simplest.  As covered in the explanatory notes to the Charter:

Paragraph 3 stems directly from the principle of human dignity and takes account of recent developments in organised crime, such as the organisation of lucrative illegal immigration or sexual exploitation networks.

Well, Little Johnny would agree with inclusion of illegal immigration in this, whether or not the individual was desperate to get away from war or a despicable regime, and whether or not the illegal immigrant had five-star service during the voyage.

The explanatory notes continue:

The annex to the Europol Convention contains the following definition which refers to trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation: "traffic in human beings: means subjection of a person to the real and illegal sway of other persons by using violence or menaces or by abuse of authority or intrigue with a view to the exploitation of prostitution, forms of sexual exploitation and assault of minors or trade in abandoned children".

Now, this gets tricky where an adult may choose freely, not being under economic co-ercion, to be employed in prostitution, and raises the issue of what exactly is sexual exploitation (e.g. lap-dancing?).

It’s also worth noting that forcing children into "armies", as happens all too often in various African states, should put an onus on those states claiming the ability to enforce rights universally (such as Belgium), regardless of whether the violation takes place within their borders or not, to do much more to stop such practices where they occur.  Perhaps if this article was passed, an EU force could be dispatched to deal with this, even if the UN didn’t sanction such action (just as the UN didn’t sanction the invasion of Iraq, although intervention to stop "child soldiers" is much more justifiable).

While slavery (point 1) is pretty obvious, "servitude", "forced labor" and "compulsory labor" are as problematic, if not more so, that the issue of voluntary work in the sex industry.

Obvious cases of forced labor and exploitation in Australia have usually involved immigrants on special visas, charged exhorbitant rents by their "sponsors" and effectively treated little better than slaves or bonded servants.

But does "involuntary labor" cover "work-for-the-dole" when the person is unsuited to a particular form of work, or has an ethical objection (such as to being drafted into the military)?  If there is a job opening at a hamburger restaurant, and Centrelink would withdraw payments to a job-seeker if they did not take up that job, does ethics-based vegetarianism give the job-seeker cause to say that they are being put to "forced labor".

What if the job opening requires unreasonable transport times away from family, or even moving to a different town away from a personal support network?

It’s fairly clear that the lines-in-the-sand would be drawn very differently by the free-marketeers as against the union and social welfare organizations.

I admit, this is an area where my own opinions are not clear… and things will get messier when examining the "Solidarity" Chapter.

Perhaps this is one area where point 2 needs to be left up to the courts of the day, to take into account advances in sensibility of not only the country with such a bill of rights, but those of other advanced nations.

As stated in the first post in this series, I welcome debate with each post as to whether or not the associated article in the draft EU Charter is worthwhile and should be included in an Australian Charter of Fundamental Rights, but would be very interested to get a comment if you think the article should not be considered a fundamental right.

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