Christmas Rights – Article 4 Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

Another day, another article and yet another that I’m sure you’re incredibly glad to have. Article 4 affords us the luxury of not being subjected to slavery or servitude:

1              No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

2              No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

3              For the purpose of this Article the term “forced or compulsory labour” shall not include:

(a)          any work required to be done in the ordinary course of detention imposed according to the provisions of Article 5 of this Convention or during conditional release from such detention;

(b)          any service of a military character or, in case of conscientious objectors in countries where they are recognised, service exacted instead of compulsory military service;

(c)           any service exacted in case of an emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community;

(d)          any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations.


What does this mean?

This means no one can enslave you or force you to work against your wishes. Like Article 3, this is an absolute right as well – there are no circumstances at all where slavery or forced labour is acceptable. However, as you can see from the article itself, the scope of what constitutes forced labour is made quite clear, unlike in previous articles where its scope is left rather vague for the courts to interpret as they deem necessary for our society at present. Here, work done in detention (such as community service), national service, work in emergencies and work as part of your normal civic obligations (for example, jury service) do not constitute forced labour.

Although they quite clearly set out what doesn’t constitute an infringement of Article 4 in the Act – there is still the common vagueness of what does constitute an infringement. An infringement would mean that slavery and forced labour are not illegal (so the law needs to protect people from it). Secondly, as the case of C.N. & V v France (2012) shows, signatory states to the ECHR must fully investigate suspicions of slavery and servitude in an effort to combat them – otherwise they fail to meet their obligations under the Convention and therefore infringe it.

What is slavery/forced labour? Well, it doesn’t just entail the Les Miserables introduction of a ball and chain around your ankle and being whipped whilst thousands belt out a song. It includes human trafficking (something Cyprus learnt very quickly in the case of Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia) for example. But, yes the stereotypical examples are still around and therefore that is what Article 4 is there to stop. In Siliadin v France, a young girl was forced to work unpaid in a private household for a number of years, without pay or days off. She had entered France with the hope of studying and had no idea that the reality of this situation lay ahead of her. The European Court of Human Rights actually came to the decision that this did not constitute her being enslaved, because her ‘employers’ did not have such legal ownership over her, to reduce her to a mere ‘object’. As astonishing as this decision sounds, luckily it was held she was being held in servitude so there was a violation, but it does show how strange the scope of this topic really can be.

Is the prohibition adhered to?

Again like Article 3, slavery has a long history in our world. I am sure many of you have read and learned about the slave triangle for example and understand that in the past slavery has been a welcome part of our society at the time. This is obviously not the case anymore. An infinite number of conventions, rules and regulations prohibit slavery and forced labour worldwide. Unfortunately again, simply criminalising something is not sufficient to stem the flow. This article from 2013 suggests there are still 30 MILLION slaves in the world today, spread all around the world, showing the epidemic we still face. Not only that, but the reasons people still continue with such a practice is clear – it is an extremely lucrative business – the International Labour Organisation predicting it generates £96 BILLION a year, mostly through prostitution. The UK has struggled to combat this problem regardless of laws such as Article 4’s presence (for evidence of this, look at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation at – they can also help you get involved in combatting the problem if you so wish), introducing new laws as recently as this year (the Modern Slavery Act 2015) in an attempt to combat the flow of forced labour in the UK.

So far, adherence has not been outstanding in the UK, and as we have seen above, this leaves the executive in a worrying position as they are liable if protections are not in place for people to avoid slavery and forced labour. However, it must be said, that the UK performs much better than many. In India for example, it is estimated that at least 1 in 100 people are subjected to slavery or forced labour. It is also a great improvement on our embarrassing historic involvement in tragedies such as the Slave Triangle.

Hopefully, this improvement will continue and soon enough this lucrative, yet evil business will be halted. But, in the meantime, enjoy that you (hopefully) know a little more about what Article 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 affords you in terms of protection. Maybe, even use that foundational knowledge as the start of learning a little more, and maybe even get involved in helping combat forced labour! This is obviously all before tomorrow when I ask you to come and learn a little more about our right under Article 5 – to liberty and security (my favourite). Have a good day everyone!


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