New legislation aimed at addressing forced labour in Ireland has been introduced. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Amendment Bill 2013 closes a loophole in the 2008 Act concerning forced labour. The definition of “labour exploitation” has been revised to explicitly include a more detailed explanation of forced labour. This is defined as:
a work or service which is exacted from a person under the menace of any penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily
In line with International Labour Organization understandings of forced labour, this does not cover work of a purely military character under compulsory military service, minor compulsory community service, work or service as a consequence of a conviction, and emergency work.
Under this legislation, both companies and individuals can be prosecuted for trafficking and forced labour. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 provides that:
Where an offence under this Act is committed by a body corporate and is proved to have been so committed with the consent or connivance of or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of any person, being a director, manager, secretary or other officer of the body corporate, or a person who was purporting to act in such capacity, that person shall, as well as the body corporate, be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished as if he or she were guilty of the first-mentioned offence.
Like the anti-trafficking law as a whole, this provision has not been used sufficiently in this context. If it was it would certainly send a message to businesses to take the necessary precautions to avoid using forced labour.
Another interesting legal innovation of the legislation, is that it allows for the Irish courts to exercise jurisdiction over offences committed outside of Ireland. This can be done where such crimes have been committed by Irish citizens or persons ordinarily resident or against Irish citizens overseas. Section 7 of the 2008 Act defines persons ordinarily resident so as to include companies registered under the Companies Act or established under the law of the State.
The door is open therefore for Irish companies to be prosecuted for trafficking and forced labour at home and abroad. We have already had the example of the exploitation of mushroom pickers in Ireland, and it is not inconceivable that Irish companies operating overseas might also become complicit in the use of forced labour. Nicholas McGeehan stated at a conference in NUI Galway in 2011, that Irish construction companies working in Qatar for World Cup 2022:
cannot avoid being implicated in projects that use slave labour. There is no doubt about that.
The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions had been urging for this recent legislative revision for some time. The new laws highlight the continuing problem of forced labour, and are also aimed at addressing forced begging. When discussing the new law in the Dail, Minister of Justice Alan Shatter stated that “We must use all the tools and resources at our disposal to prevent and combat human trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators and protect its victims”. Prosecutions of individuals and of companies especially would have an important deterrent effect here, as well as providing justice for victims of these crimes.