Committee Reports::Report No. 03 - Apartheid and Development in Southern Africa::25 March, 1986::Appendix


My proposal: Since, due to the system of apartheid, there is an extensive use of prisoners and forced labour in agriculture in South Africa, a prohibition should be imposed on imports of agricultural produce from South Africa.

The prohibition should apply to the goods referred to in cc. 1-24 of the Act Including the Customs Tariff (1977: 975).

Circumstances motivating my proposal: Owing to the system of apartheid, South Africa has an excessively large number of prisoners compared with other countries. In 1983 the average number of prisoners in prisons amounted to almost 110,000. The same year 260,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were black, were sentenced to prison. The large number is mainly due to the special apartheid laws which, among other things, control the black population’s right of domicile and movement within the country. Under these laws all black persons are obliged, from the age of 16, to possess and always carry valid documents of identity containing particulars of lawful domicile, employer, labour permit etc. Lack of these documents or residence in a place without a permit means immediate arrest, followed by a fine or imprisonment or one of the forms of forced labour which I will describe shortly. In 1984 300,000 people were convicted of offences against these laws.

There is a long tradition of using prisoners and forced labour in various sectors of South African society, particularly in agriculture, where the procedure has been regulated since the early 1930s by several official programmes.

The International Labour Organization, ILO, noted in a report on South Africa as long ago as 1953 that there existed a legalized system of forced labour, which was only applied to the black population for the purpose of providing a permanent supply of labour for agriculture, inter alia. In a declaration on South Africa’s apartheid policy, adopted by the ILO in 1964, it was stated that the forced labour system had been expanded and intensified.

The extent of the system and the inhuman conditions under which the prisoners in the agricultural sector lived were revealed in the South African press at the end of the 1950s. This resulted in the Government appointing a committee to review the system and the passing of legislation (The Prisons Act, 1959) to make it more difficult to obtain and circulate information about prisons and the treatment and conditions of the prisoners. By ‘prisons’ in this context is also meant farms where prisoners are used as labour.

Partly for the above reason, it is difficult to obtain information concerning prisoners and prison labour in agriculture. In reply to such questions in the South African parliament even the ministers responsible have on several occasions been obliged to admit that such information as the number of prisoners working in agriculture was not available. Apart from a certain amount of official material and university reports, the existing information is taken from records of court proceedings and parliamentary records, newspaper articles and the like. The most extensive material consists of a report entitled “Prison Labour in South Africa”, published in 1977 by the University of Cape Town in collaboration with the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders, NICRO, which is an advisory body to the South African government authorities. The information has been compiled in a report entitled “Akin to Slavery - Prison Labour in South Africa”, published in 1982 by the International Defence and Aid Fund, IDAF. This is a British organization well known for its activities in connection with South Africa, which has received considerable Swedish aid for a number of years.

According to this material there has existed a “parole system” in South Africa since 1959, and under it those convicted of offences are asked whether they wish to serve their sentence in prison or be released on parole to work for a private employer. Those sentenced to short terms of imprisonment and who are unskilled are primarily assigned to agricultural work. The employer is responsible for supervision and is obliged to provide food, clothing and lodging, and to pay the prisoner a minimum wage. According to official reports dating from 1979 this wage amounted to 45 cents (25-35 US cents) a day. The same year there were stated to be about 111,000 male prisoners “on parole”, 65,000 of whom were convicted of offences against the pass I should point out in this connection that, if it can be shown that prisoners and forced labour are exploited to a great extent in other sectors in South Africa as well, I am prepared to submit proposals for the prohibition of imports of goods from these sectors too.

In the light of the information I have just outlined, the prohibition on the import of agricultural produce proposed here does not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination according to the GATT regulations.

Sweden’s imports of agricultural produce from South Africa amounted to SEK 116 m. in 1984. The largest individual items are fresh and dried fruit and tinned fruit. Other large items are feeding stuffs and vegetables. The prohibition should apply to all agricultural produce, i.e commodities referred to in cc. 1-24 of the Act (1977: 975) Including the Customs Tariff. Such a prohibition will also cover certain commodities and groups of commodities which are not imported to Sweden at all at present. I do not regard this as a disadvantage, in view of the fact that the prohibition must be made as simple as possible from the administrative point of view.

I have just pointed out that the extensive use of prisoners. and forced labour in the agricultural sector in South Africa affects wages and conditions of work in agriculture as a whole. As previously mentioned, South Africa’s legislation also makes it difficult to obtain information on the use of prisoners and forced labour and on the conditions in this respect. For this reason the Act should not contain any provisions granting exemption from the prohibition of imports on such grounds as that a particular exporting company does not employ prison labour in its production.

Violations of the prohibition of imports should be made punishable in accordance with the Act (1960:418) on Penalties for the Smuggling of Goods (the Act on Smuggling).


The proposed prohibition of imports of agricultural produce from South Africa may entail economic losses for the Swedish companies concerned.

The question of whether compensation from public funds should be paid to individuals who incur economic loss as a result of prohibitions under the provisions of legislation on sanctions has been discussed in various contexts, e.g. in passing the Act (1971:176) on Certain International Sanctions and the Act (1979:487) on Prohibition of Investments in South Africa and Namibia (cf. Bill 1971:77, p. 64, and Bill 1978/79:196, p. 43). For various reasons the Government has not considered it appropriate to make special compensation provisions in these connections.

For the reasons explained in the above-mentioned bills I am not prepared to propose a statutory right to compensation for losses that may be incurred. It is conceivable, however, that a person suffering such losses may be granted compensation if he applies to the Government with a request to that effect. An examination will be made in each individual case to see whether there are grounds, and if so, to what extent, for granting such a person compensation from public funds for losses incurred.

laws. The parole system is still in use.

In 1969 a system of so called Aid Centres was introduced, whereby a person arrested for crimes against the pass laws is helped by the local employment offices to find work, chiefly in agriculture. The person arrested is not tried and does not have the chance to opt for a fine or imprisonment instead of work. If no work can be found for him he risks being removed to his homeland with his family. These Aid Centres were estimated to have assigned work to 18,000 persons in 1979.

A third system, in addition to the parole system and Aid Centres, is that of the so called farm prisons intended for long-term prisoners. The system is designed to supply labour to the agricultural sector and relieve the overcrowded ordinary prisons. These prisons have been financed and built by private farmers, who are entitled to labour in proportion to the capital they have invested. There are reported to have been 22 such private prisons in the mid-70s, with a daily average of over 9,000 prisoners.

The IDAF report concludes that the number of prisoners working in agriculture in the three systems described must have amounted to at least 90,000 in 1980. This figure may be compared with the total number of black farm workers, which is about 700,000. A considerable proportion (over 10 %) of farm workers would thus appear to be prisoners. Apart from this, prisoners can be hired by private farmers, and farm work is done under the supervision of the authorities in about 20 prisons, so called prison farms, and in farming colonies to which black people who are classed as unwilling to work under existing apartheid laws may be assigned. No reports are available on the number of prisoners in these last three categories. In “Prison Labour”, the report published in 1977 mentioned above, it is stated that the total number of prisoners working in agriculture may be estimated at about 175,000.

Reasons for my proposal: Several international agreements deal with the use of prisoners and forced labour. One of these is the ILO’s Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, which entered into force in 1959; another is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

The use of prisoners as labour is also touched on by GATT. Article XXe) grants exemption from obligations under the Agreement if a measure concerns goods produced by prisoners. Such measures may not be applied, however, in such a way as to allow arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where similar conditions prevail.

The use of prisoners and forced labour occurs, of course, in other parts of the world too. As regards agriculture, however, the conditions in South Africa are unique. The extent of prison or forced labour is exceptionally great in proportion to the number of workers in the agricultural sector. Most of the prisoners are convicted of offences under laws which constitute the very cornerstone of the system of apartheid, and which are only applied to the black majority. Legalized racial discrimination is the regime’s principal instrument in controlling the mobility of the black population in the labour market and in guaranteeing a constant supply of cheap and defenceless labour. This applies particularly to the agricultural sector which, owing to the low wages and harsh conditions, has difficulty in competing for labour with other sectors. Legalized racial discrimination, and its consequences for the workers, has a considerable effect on wages and conditions of work in the agricultural sector as a whole. In a report published by the South African Department of Justice in 1984 it is stated that the total prison labour force in South Africa represents a considerable production potential, and that this labour makes an appreciable contribution to the gross national product.