Article 4 No slavery or forced labour

Although the slave trade was abolished centuries ago, modern day slavery persists with many workers, often migrants, forced into performing compulsory work for little or no wages in conditions where they are effectively prevented from escaping.

The prohibition on holding a person in slavery or servitude is absolute and can never be justified.

The prohibition on requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour does not include lawful work required of prisoners or military service; work required during an emergency or other work or service that forms part of normal civil obligations (for example, jury service).

A person is subjected to forced labour when the person does not voluntarily consent to perform work but does so because of threats made, either physical or psychological.

The State is under an obligation to ensure laws are in place to protect people from slavery, servitude and forced labour, including by having anti-trafficking legislation and making it an offence to subject someone to such practices.

State authorities are also obliged to protect victims or potential victims of Article 4 ill-treatment from real and immediate risks which are known, or ought to be known, by the authorities.  There is also an obligation to investigate any allegations of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour.

The UK is also under a duty in cross-border trafficking cases to cooperate effectively with the relevant authorities of other states concerned in the investigation of events which occurred outside their territories.

Case study

A young Togolese girl was forced to work as a servant and child carer for families in France.  She was rarely paid, was required to work up to 16 hours a day with very little time off, slept on a mattress on the floor, had her passport confiscated and was effectively prevented from leaving.

The European Court of Human Rights held that France, in not providing specific and effective protection to victims of forced labour, was in breach of Article 4.

UK law was liable to the same criticism until the passage in 2009 of section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which made holding another person in slavery or servitude or subjecting them to forced or compulsory labour a criminal offence.


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