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Ireland agrees to ratify the ILO Forced Labour Protocol

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys T.D., today announced that cabinet has approved the decision to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Forced Labour Protocol, 2014.

The ILO, one of the UN’s oldest agencies, was founded in 1919 and brings together governments, employer and worker representatives of 187 countries to develop international Labour Standards and policies to promote decent work and social justice. Many of the employment rights which we currently benefit from; such as minimum working age, maternity leave, maximum weekly working hours and annual leave, are the result of negotiations over the past 100 years by the constituents of the ILO.

The Forced Labour Protocol, a legally binding instrument of the ILO, reinforces the international legal framework for combating all forms of forced labour, including trafficking in persons, and calls on ratifying States to take measures to prevent forced labour, protect victims and ensure their access to remedies. The ratification of this Protocol will ensure that Ireland is aligned with the most advanced international standards in this area. Ireland will the 29th country to show its commitment to combatting more recent forms of forced labour, including trafficking for labour exploitation. This puts Ireland among the group known as “50 for Freedom”, which stems from an ILO initiative to encourage 50-member countries to ratify the Protocol by the end of 2019.

Speaking today, Minister Humphreys said: “Ireland recognises that forced labour undermines the principles of human rights. The State has a comprehensive suite of employment rights legislation and continues its efforts to eliminate human trafficking utilising the provisions of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008 and the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013.”

The Minister extended thanks to ICTU and Ibec for their involvement in the ratification process, saying: “The ILO’s tripartite nature, in which Governments, Worker and Employers work together to promote decent work and advance social justice, is unique in the UN system. It brings important perspectives together. The strong relationship which we have with our Social Partners is fundamental to our ability to play an active role within the ILO, as demonstrated by the cooperation from ICTU and Ibec in respect of the ratification process.”

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, welcomed the decision to ratify the Protocol, which he said further demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to acting against labour exploitation in all its forms.

Ireland’s decision to ratify the Protocol coincides with the launch of the ILO centenary year, which was marked by the publication of the report by the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work in Geneva Switzerland. The world of work is experiencing a major process of change, with important transformations ranging from the development of technologies and the impact of climate change to the changing character of production and employment. The report makes recommendations on how to achieve a future of work that provides decent and sustainable work opportunities for all. The Commission co-chaired by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven has been guided by the objectives of the ILO.

Over the coming months, the ILO will have an active schedule of events, including a live broadcast 24-hour “Global Tour” of national events to celebrate the work of the ILO on four continents, and the Centenary International Labour Conference, which is expected to adopt new landmark standards to prevent violence and harassment in the world of work. In September 2019, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in collaboration with National University of Ireland will hold a national event to commemorate the ILO centenary. The event will highlight the significant role Ireland has played in the ILO over the past hundred years, with particular reference to Irishman Edward Phelan who played a key role in the formation of the ILO and was Director General of the Organisation from 1941 to 1948.

Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD, commended the approval to ratify: “Today’s decision shows a strong commitment on the part of Ireland to the ILO’s principles and values, namely to the core concept of decent work. It is notable that Ireland has taken the decision to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol in the ILO’s centenary year, which coincides with Ireland’s first ever term as a full member of the ILO Governing Body.”

The instrument of ratification will be presented shortly to the Director-General of the ILO in Geneva, Mr Guy Ryder.

Notes for Editors
The International Labour Organisation (ILO)
The ILO is a United Nations agency which brings together government, employer and worker representatives of 187 member States, to develop International Labour Standards, policies and programmes promoting decent work for all. Its tripartite nature is unique in the UN system.
International Labour Standards
International Labour Standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO constituents that set out basic principles and rights at work. Instruments include:

  • Conventions, which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states. 
  • Protocols, procedural devices for adding extra flexibility to a Convention or for extending a Conventions obligations. Protocols are also legally binding international treaties, but which, in the ILO context, do not exist independently since they are always linked to a Convention. Like Conventions, they are subject to ratification. They allow adaptation to changing conditions and they enable practical difficulties to be dealt with which have arisen since the Convention was adopted, thus making the Conventions more relevant and up to date. The ILO have five Protocols to date, including the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention. 
  • Recommendations are also international instruments but are not legally binding and serve as guidelines to help member States formulate their policy at a national level. Often, they supplement an existing convention by providing detailed guidelines for its implementation but they can also be adopted autonomously. 

Forced Labour Protocol

The Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention requires governments to take measures to prevent forced labour and provide support for its victims. The Protocol, adopted at the International Labour Conference in 2014, added new measures to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 aimed at tackling newer forms of forced labour, such as trafficking for labour exploitation. The Protocol is a legally binding treaty that requires ratification by a country to come into force.
Ireland addresses the provisions of the Protocol through the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008, the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013, our suite of employment rights legislation and through the Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Ireland.
The campaign 50 for Freedom aims to mobilise public support and influence in at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol by 2018. Other countries which have ratified this instrument include Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

ILO Centenary
In 2019, the ILO – one of the oldest UN specialised agencies – celebrates its 100th anniversary. Throughout the centenary year, multiple events and initiatives will take place at the global, regional and national levels to celebrate the anniversary and to engage constituents around the core values and vision of the Organisation as it prepares for its second century of promoting decent work and social justice. In September 2019, Ireland will hold a national event to commemorate the ILO centenary in collaboration with the National University of Ireland. The proposed event will highlight the significant role Ireland has played in the ILO over the past century and will incorporate speeches, panel discussions and will culminate in the 2019 Edward Phelan lecture. This will be the fourth lecture in a series which was established in 2013 in honour of Waterford-born Edward Phelan, the first official of the ILO and a prominent figure in shaping the organisation’s direction and philosophy. In 2015 the Edward Phelan lecture on the topic of "The Future of Work" was given by his Excellency Michael D. Higgins President of Ireland.
Global Commission on the Future of Work
The Global Commission was set up in 2017 as part of the ILO Future of Work Initiative to assess the transformative changes taking place in the world of work and to make recommendations on the way forward. On 22 January, the Commission produced an independent report on how to achieve a future that provides decent and sustainable work opportunities for all. Tripartite discussions on the Global Commission’s report – involving governments, employers and workers – will take place at national and regional level in the months following its publication. The report will then be submitted to the Centenary International Labour Conference in June 2019.
Ireland and the ILO  
Ireland became a member of the ILO in 1923, this was the first international organisation which the new State joined. Ireland’s links with the ILO can be traced back to Edward Phelan, a Waterford born civil servant who became the ILO’s first official.
In June 2017 Ireland was elected to a Titulaire (speaking and voting) seat for the first time since we joined the ILO in 1923. The seat will be held for three years and will coincide with an ambitious and active period in the ILO as it celebrates it