Home – 'Tis the season to combat forced labor

'Tis the season to combat forced labor

Posted on 12-13-2018 by Lisa Thompson

 Holiday traditions vary. Whether you festoon a Christmas tree with sparkly baubles and tinsel, light a menorah for Hanukkah or tackle feats of strength for Festivus, gift-giving and holiday parties are likely part of your tradition too. But these seasonal celebrations have a dark side—the risk of child labor or forced labor hidden deep in the supply chain.

In fact, according to the Global Slavery Index 2018 by the Walk Free Foundation, one in every 800 people in the U.S. is a victim of forced labor. Moreover, imports are a driving force behind forced labor, with an estimated $144 billion worth of at-risk products imported annually. Many of those at-risk products are part of the holiday season—both in the gifts that are given and received and the hors d’oeuvres at annual gatherings. Even coal is an at-risk product.

With greater awareness into the issue—and a robust due diligence and risk monitoring program in place—companies AND consumers can help bring an end to the corruption that traps people in dangerous, low-paid work situations.

Unwrapping the secrecy behind forced labor

After the Industrial Revolution, child labor was legal—and commonplace—in the United States. Then 80 years ago, the Fair Labor Standard Act made it illegal to employ children under 16 for most jobs and under 18 for dangerous jobs. Today, however, child labor is rife around the globe. The International Labour Organization estimates that 152 million children between 5 and 17 years old are victims of child labor with 73 million engaged in hazardous work.  According to the data:

  • 70.9 percent work in Agriculture, which includes farming, fishing, forestry, livestock herding and aquaculture
  • 11.9 percent in Industry, which includes mining and manufacturing 
  • 17.2 percent in Services, which vary greatly, from street work like shining shoes and selling goods to clearing debris from construction sites

Forced labor also impacts 40.3 million adults. And it’s not just happening in emerging nations. While the U.S. has laws against forced labor—and, indeed, against the import of goods made with forced labor—the problem still exists.

Many companies are committed to eradicating forced labor from their supply chains, but it is an uphill battle given the complexity of global supply chains. Best practices for mitigating forced labor risk include:

  • Ensuring suppliers understand the indicators of forced labor and are equally committed to keeping it out of their own supply chains
  • Improve awareness of where the greatest risk of forced labor occurs, with enhanced due diligence for key suppliers in areas that have high migrant populations or emerging nations were forced labor is more widespread
  • Maintain strict policies—and enforce them—when it comes to purchasing and production practices across your entire supply chain
  • Conduct ongoing risk monitoring to identify red flags to enable quick responses to suspected forced labor, including on-site audits
  • Collaborate with other organizations or brands sourcing from the same regions and suppliers and work toward collective solutions
In recent years, you’ve probably seen headlines about forced labor on fishing vessels, cocoa farms, and sugarcane plantations. You may have seen news stories on child labor in Venezuelan gold mines and in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But as the holiday season comes into full swing, you may want to think more about the how and the where of those goodies and gifts. The shrimp cocktails, chocolate Santas and reindeer sugar cookies may seem far less appetizing. The gold necklace that earns a kiss under the mistletoe may be a little tarnished when you picture a 12-year-old working in grueling conditions. But your awareness can bring us one step closer to bringing relief those who have suffered to bring the joys of the season to you.

Next Steps:

  1. Learn more about forced labor risk from our collection of resources.
  2. Explore LexisNexis solutions for enhanced due diligence and ongoing risk monitoring.
  3. Share this article with your colleagues and connections on LinkedIn.

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