European Court of Human Rights, C.N. and V. v. France, Application No. 67724/09, 11 October 2012

European Court of Human Rights
Forced labour
Role of International Law:
Use of international law as a guide for interpreting European human rights law
Type of instruments used:

ILO Convention;1 Report of the International Labour Office2

Forced labour/ Use of international law as a guide for interpreting the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

The case concerned allegations of servitude and forced or compulsory labour, made by two orphaned Burundi sisters under the age of 18, and failure of France to honour its positive obligations to tackle them.

In order to determine whether the applicants had been held in a situation of servitude and used as forced labour, in violation of the article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court based its reasoning on the definition of “forced labour” given by the ILO Convention No. 29, and referred to the work of the ILO’s supervisory bodies in the ILO Report on forced labour “The cost of coercion” at length:

           “The ILO’s definition of forced labour comprises two basic elements: the work or service is exacted under the menace of a penalty and it is undertaken involuntarily. The work of the ILO supervisory bodies has served to clarify both of these elements. The penalty does not need to be in the form of penal sanctions, but may also take the form of a loss of rights and privileges. […]

           As regards “voluntary offer”, the ILO supervisory bodies have touched on a range of aspects including: the form and subject matter of consent; the role of external constraints or indirect coercion; and the possibility of revoking freely-given consent. […] Many victims enter forced labour situations initially out of their own choice, albeit through fraud and deception, only to discover later that they are not free to withdraw their labour, owing to legal, physical or psychological coercion. Initial consent may be considered irrelevant when deception or fraud has been used to obtain it.”3

Interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights in the light of ILO Convention No. 29, the Court concluded that France had failed to meet its “positive obligation to set in place a legislative and administrative framework to effectively combat servitude and forced labour”4 with regard to one of the applicants, and ordered the compensation for the damages sustained.

1 ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29).

2 The Cost of Coercion. Global Report under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, International Labour Conference, 98th Session, Report 1(B), 2009.

3 Paragraph 52 of the decision.

4 Page 26 of the decision.

Full text of the decision