Press Centre

Ireland still has no law against forced labour

PRESS RELEASE:  3 December 2012, BY Senator Jillian van Turnhout

 Marking International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Sunday 2 December 2012, Senator Jillian van Turhout is today calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, to recognise forced labour as a crime so that victims can be protected.

Forced labour is an extreme form of exploitation and involves deception, coercion, threats or actual physical harm, and debt bondage.   It is a growing problem in Ireland.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the recession is leading to greater recourse to very cheap and free labour by unscrupulous employers.  Senator van Turnhout is working closely with Migrant Rights Centre Ireland who has dealt with over 179 cases of forced labour over the last six years.

Calling for an urgent debate on forced labour in the Seanad last week, the Senator stated “…there is no room for suggesting that this Government is unaware of the negative and dangerous consequences of its failure to legislate against forced labour. A stand-alone law or a clearly defined provision on forced labour in existing legislation would give victims confidence to report their abuse and act as a deterrent to their exploiters.”

Senator van Turnhout is urging the Minister for Justice and Equality to “publish the International Labour Organisation’s report on criminalising forced labour in Ireland; publish the Department of Justice and Equality’s Report on whether or not the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 is sufficient to criminalise forced labour; and act with urgency to ensure robust legislation is in place to deal with this grave and disturbing problem.”


Senator Jillian van Turnhout, Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach’s Nominees)

Background Information

Forced labour is defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention (No. 29) concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour

"...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."

In effect, forced labour is a severe form of exploitation where a worker performs work against their will under threat.

The ILO has developed indicators to detect forced labour as follows:

  • Threats of or actual physical or sexual violence.
  • Restriction of movement and confinement, to the workplace or to a limited area.
  • Debt bondage: where a worker works to pay off debt or loan, and is not paid for his or her services.
  • Withholding of wages, refusing to pay the worker at all or excessive wage reductions.
  • Retention of passports and identity documents.
  • Threat of denunciation to the authorities.

The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 29(1930) and Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires forced labour be punishable as a criminal offence. There is no law in Ireland that makes forced labour a criminal offence.