Press Release | EU’s Consumption is a Major Driver of Forced Labour and Accidents at Work Globally, says New Study by SDSN and the University of Sydney

Paris, 23 November 2022 – The football World Cup in Qatar raised concerns about human rights’ violations and climate impacts, notably in the construction sector. Today, the new study released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the University of Sydney, in cooperation with the German Government, shows that each year, through international trade and across all industrial sectors, the EU’s consumption is associated with 1.2 million cases of modern slavery and 4200 fatal accidents at work in the world. Also, about 40% of the total greenhouse gas emissions’ footprint of the European Union each year takes place outside of its borders to satisfy EU consumers.

The study quantifies and discusses more specifically impacts embodied in the consumption of fossil and raw mineral materials and products. The latter are notably used to support the renewable energy transition, as part of the European Green Deal. The study finds no signs of structural improvements since 2015 when it comes to consumption-based impacts, notably in terms of socio-economic and environmental impacts generated abroad to satisfy the EU’s consumption of fossil and raw mineral material and products. These impacts take place primarily in Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Central Asia.

The study emphasizes the need to mobilize three major policy levers to curb these impacts: (1) Domestic EU policies and regulations; (2) Green Deal and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Diplomacy to support cleaner production processes in partner countries and (3) Responsible Consumption recycling & innovation. The study makes it clear that trade is a major source of income and prosperity notably in developing countries. Deglobalization and trade wars are therefore not the solution to curb negative spillovers. Rich countries, including the EU as a whole and its member states, should lead international efforts to address the drivers of forced labour and accidents at work – notably by supporting the call made by the UN Secretary-General for a financial stimulus to restore and accelerate progress on the SDGs adopted by all the UN member states in 2015 – but also to support the transition towards cleaner energy and production systems globally.

The study builds on previous studies prepared by the SDSN and the University of Sydney in cooperation with the German government on textile and the food sector. The study builds on robust data and a scientific methodology. The year of reference of the data corresponds to 2018, the latest year available for these types of assessments.

Download the report here

View the launch event recording here

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