This post was originally contributed to The Trafficking Research Project (http://thetraffickingresearchproject.wordpress.com).
Companies become implicated in human trafficking either in their supply-chain when suppliers and sub-contractors engage in trafficking or related forced labour, or directly in their operations, when, for example, they transport or harbour victims. This article describes initiatives and tools developed to measure the extent to which companies meet their responsibility in relation to human trafficking. According to the ILO there are 21 million forced labourers, of which 19 million are exploited by private enterprises or individuals for economic activities. Most business sectors are at risk of coming into contact with human trafficking and forced labour within their extensive supply chains. The ILO’s Combating Forced Labour: A Handbook for Employers & Business identifies human trafficking in the supply-chain of sectors such as agriculture, construction, manufacture, food processing and packaging, textile and garments, mining and logging.
Other sectors, such as telecoms and electronics have recently been involved in human trafficking. In September, a report by Verité, an NGO working on supply-chain accountability, showed evidence of forced labour among migrant workers in the electronic industry in Malaysia. In June, a Guardian investigation uncovered human trafficking and slavery in the supply-chain of Thai seafood sold to major international retailers. After the findings were published, major UK and US supermarkets groups met to create a task force to tackle trafficking and forced labour by establishing a global benchmark in sustainable shrimp-feed production. In September, the International Trade Union Confederation called on the UN to investigate evidence that thousands of migrant workers in the UAE, including those building the world’s largest Guggenheim and a new Louvre museum, were engaged in forms of forced labour.
Responsible businesses that want to address human trafficking should comply with national legislation and international standards, such as the ILO Forced Labour Convention (C29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (C105); the Trafficking Protocol and the Smuggling Protocol; and the Optional Protocol on Sale the Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. A new ILO Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention adopted in June is designed to prevent the use of forced labour, in particular in the context of human trafficking. But additional steps are needed to address human trafficking in a company’s supply-chain. To complement international standards and national legislation, governments, industry groups and civil society have developed a number of initiatives and tools.
The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (SB 657) requires companies to disclose efforts to eradicate human trafficking and slavery in their supply-chain. It applies to companies that do business in California and have gross receipts of more than $100 million per annum. A coalition of anti-trafficking organisations launched Know The Chain, as a resource to promote greater transparency and dialogue on the issue of slavery in supply-chains and improve compliance with SB-657. Last January, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre approached the 129 companies identified by Know the Chain as lacking a SB-657 statement and encouraged them to adopt one. Of those, only 44 responded, while 85 companies remained silent, included significant brands such as Guess and Microsemi.
Under SB 657, companies are required to take actions in the areas of verification, auditing and certification of direct suppliers, internal accountability, and internal training. Companies can be technically compliant with the law by stating they are not taking any actions to address human trafficking – it only requires disclosing actions taken. In June, Humanity United, a US-based foundation, revealed that 10 company disclosures state that they are not taking any action. For example, Hyundai’s disclosure says that it “has no policy regarding and does not monitor human trafficking and slavery in its direct product supply-chain”.
The California law is a relatively rare example of local government action to tackle corporate impact on human trafficking. Civil society, international organisations and companies themselves have taken the lead in this area. Measuring Business & Human Rights has identified a number of tools and initiatives that feature business and human rights indicators in the area of supply-chain human trafficking and forced labour. In the Human Rights and Business Dilemma Forum, the UN Global Compact and Maplecroft analyse emerging economy case studies and the business risks posed by the “dilemma” of human trafficking. It suggests actions that responsible companies should take in order to manage and mitigate risks.
In August, Stronger Together, an industry initiative set up to reduce the risk of modern slavery in supply-chains, launched Transparency in the UK Food Supply Chain, laying out good practices to ensure ethical labour standards for UK-based growers and producers. The Cotton Sourcing Snapshot by the Responsible Sourcing Network is a survey that includes ratings of 49 companies reflecting actions they are taking to stop cotton from Uzbekistan picked with forced labour from entering their supply-chain. The Working on the Right Shoes by Stop Child Labour provides an assessment of 28 Dutch and international footwear companies on the basis of their policies and practices to combat child labour and labour rights abuses in their full supply-chain.
The Key Performance indicators for Investors to Assess Labour & Human Rights Risks Faced by Global Corporations in Supply Chain was developed in 2012 by the Fair Labour Association and the Pensions and Capital Stewardship Project at Harvard Law School. The Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking (GBCAT) provides guidance to companies that want to understand human trafficking and how it affects business. GBCAT focuses on four main areas: training and education programmes for employees and sub-contractors, identification and prevention of forced labour in the supply-chain and operations, communication of best practices, and raising awareness of company policies to combat sex trafficking in travel and tourism.
Sectors at risk of direct involvement in human trafficking and related forced labour include tourism, hospitality, entertainment, travel and transportation, and the sex industry. Traffickers transport victims via international airlines, buses, or shipping companies, or may use hospitality and entertainment facilities such as restaurants, bars and nightclubs for the harbouring and exploitation of victims. The tourism sector has been particularly exposed as hotels and resorts have been used for the sexual exploitation of women and children. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s human trafficking case law database provides a list of hundreds of cases related to the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children in hotels and bars.
Due its elevated risk, and the recognition of its potential positive impact, some of the main initiatives to tackle human trafficking have been developed by, or address the tourism sector. For example, in July, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP), an initiative bringing together international hotel companies to work on social responsibility, released two new guidelines. The Guidelines for Checking Recruitment Agencies, to help hotels perform the right due diligence to reduce the risk of trafficking in their supply-chain. The Guidelines suggest background checks into national regulation where the hotel operates and whether the agency has license, or membership to a national professional association or body. The Know How Guide, helps the tourism sector build policies and recommends the creation of a human rights policy, staff engagement and adopting a formal commitment such as the ITP Position Statement on Human Trafficking.
Hotels are also encouraged to join local and international initiatives. One of those is The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code). This is an industry initiative developed in collaboration with ECPAT International and UNICEF. It requires members to commit themselves to six criteria: to establish an ethical policy regarding sexual exploitation of children; to train personnel in the country of origin and travel destinations; to introduce a clause in contracts with the suppliers stating a common repudiation of commercial sexual exploitation of children; to provide information to travellers; and to report progress annually. More than 1000 tourism sector companies have joined the code. The success of the code is due to a combination of socially responsible investors, greater public awareness about human trafficking, and companies understanding it as part of their risk management. What makes this initiative different is also that members’ reports are publicly available, providing a unique tool for civil society and business alike.
In addition to complying with relevant national legislation and international standards, engaging in due diligence as established by the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights and implementing specific policies to prevent and address human trafficking, responsible businesses could sign or join a sector-specific initiative. The advantage of sector initiatives is that they allow companies to pool their resources against human trafficking.
A company should also ensure that the terms of an anti-human trafficking policy are reflected in contracts with suppliers and subcontractors. These agreements should be supported by a system to check that the supplier is complying with the policy through independent expert audits. Industry and civil society organizations that develop and join sector initiatives should establish an enforcement or grievance mechanism so companies that are not taking any actions face penalties. A responsible business needs to accept independent oversight and monitoring. The provision of third-party data supplier is fundamentally important for the efficacy of any such initiatives, as is multi-stakeholder participation in the development and in the assessment of the initiative. Transparency is a priority both in the methodology of the tool and the corporate reports, which should be publicly available. Initiatives should not be based solely on avoiding risk for business, building a brand name or to simply avoid legal and reputational risks. The most complete tool is one that provides for a measurement of the real human rights impact it is having on the ground.
Irene Pietropaoli is one of the co-Directors of MB&HR and a PhD candidate at the Law school of Middlesex University, London. In the past years she worked as a researcher at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. She is now based in Yangon, Myanmar.