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Article 4: Prohibition on Slavery and Forced Labour
Article 4: Prohibition on slavery and forced labour
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 the Convention or during conditional release from such detention;
(b) any service of a military character or, in the 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.
Although the right is absolute, not all forced labour will be considered to fall within Article 4, and paragraph (3) of the Article sets out a number of matters which will NOT be considered ‘forced or compulsory labour’. So military service, or community service as part of a sentence lawfully imposed by the Court will not be considered to fall within Article 4. Attempts have been made to argue that a requirement to do voluntary work as part of your professional training, a requirement to do work based training as a condition of entitlement to unemployment benefits, or a requirement to do jury service breached Article 4. The European Court of Human Rights rejected all such arguments.
As well as prohibiting the state from subjecting individuals to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, Article 4 can also impose a positive obligation on states to take steps to protect individuals from being subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour by other private individuals. This includes a duty to investigate allegations of Article 4 breaches, and a requirement to take action to prosecute and punish individuals who subject others to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour. Liberty brought a case against the Metropolitan Police where we argued that they had breached the Article 4 rights of a woman who had been subjected to forced labour by her purported ‘employer’, when they failed to investigate her complaint. The Metropolitan police accepted that they had breached the woman’s Article 4 rights.
In Siliadin v France the ECtHR found that France had breached Article 4 by not having laws that made it a criminal offence to keep individuals in slavery. The Court noted that only criminal law provisions provided an effective deterrent to protect individuals from being subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour. Until very recently there was no law in the UK which specifically outlawed slavery or servitude, but following a campaign by Liberty and Anti-Slavery International the government conceded that such a law was necessary to comply with its obligations under Article 4. It therefore introduced section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which creates the offence of keeping someone in “slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour” and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.