British taxpayers could support slavery across the world

18 January 2010

The UK Government is considering proposals that could see British taxpayer’s money support child labour and slavery.

Proposals issued at a consultation last month reveal the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) is considering abandoning its ban on British companies investing in overseas projects that use forced labour and harmful child labour.

The ECGD encourages UK businesses to export and invest in developing countries by using taxpayers’ money to guarantee payment. Responsibility to approve the proposals lies with Lord Mandelson, the British Secretary for Business.

Joanna Ewart-James, Anti-Slavery International’s Supply Chain Co-ordinator said: “With that the majority of the 12.3 million people in slavery working for the profit of companies and individuals it is imperative that the ban on investing in projects that use force labour and harmful child labour is not lifted. Many of those in slavery today are working in industries that the ECGD supports, such as coal mining and sugar cane harvesting in the energy sector.”

The ECGD adopted an outright ban on harmful child labour and forced labour following a parliamentary inquiry in 2003 and the subsequent criticism by the Environment Audit Committee. The Committee said at the time: “There is no circumstance under which it would be acceptable for ECGD, using taxpayers’ money, to support projects which exploit children or employ bonded or forced labour.”

The ECGD said the proposals would put the UK inline with international standards and would not make a final decision until the end of the consultation period in March 2010.

Ms Ewart-James added: “It is unacceptable for the UK to retreat to a position which could result in an increase in the number of people in slavery. The UK Government should instead be pushing for an improvement of international standards to help bring an end to the industry of slavery.”