October 5, 2016 / 5:11 PM / a year ago

EU supply chain database needed to stamp out forced labour - activist

LONDON, Oct 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The European Union should require companies to publicly disclose the origin of all products imported and sold within the 28-nation bloc to help stamp out labour abuses, an anti-slavery activist said on Wednesday.

The data should be uploaded in a common database accessible by consumers, allowing them to make informed decisions on what they buy, British rights activist Andy Hall of the Migrant Worker Rights Network said.

He urged EU lawmakers to follow the United States' efforts to enhance transparency in the supply chain.

"In the U.S. ...we can get a whole printout from which company (a product) came from, which port it came into, which port it was shipped from, where the goods have been processed, how they have been supplied how they ended up on the supermarket shelf," Hall said.

"In the EU there is absolutely nothing," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Strasbourg where he is due to meet European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom on Thursday to discuss the idea.

"We need that information so that we can make the supply chain more transparent," Hall said.

From cosmetics and clothes to shrimp and smartphones, the supply chain for most products can be complex with multiple layers - whether in sourcing the raw materials or creating the final product - making it hard to identify exploitation.

About 21 million people are victims of forced labour around the world, the United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates.

Heidi Hautala, a EU lawmaker of the Greens/European Free Alliance group, backed Hall's proposal and said she was working to bring the idea to the European Parliament.

"It could be a very powerful tool for sustainability of supply chains," she said via telephone from Strasbourg.

A Thai court handed Hall a three-year suspended prison sentence last month for criminally defaming a fruit wholesaler that supplies the EU, over a 2013 report he helped author for a watchdog in a verdict activists denounced as a setback in the fight against forced labour.

Hall was in Strasbourg ahead of a EU parliament vote on Thursday on a resolution that is expected to condemn the court's verdict. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Astrid Zweynert; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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