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January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Established in 2007 by a Senate resolution, the day shines a spotlight on the issue of trafficking men, women and children for financial gain. Many associate trafficking with sexual exploitation, however among an estimated 16 million human trafficking victims:
That’s right. There is a clear correlation between human trafficking and forced labor.
What defines human trafficking and forced labor?
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notes that “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Human trafficking disproportionately impacts marginalized groups—migrants, women and children, teenage runaways, LGBTQ individuals. It can happen within a single country’s borders or trans-nationally.
Forced labor is even more prevalent, impacting 24.9 million people around the world, including close to 10 million children. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable because of language barriers, lack of advocates or friends nearby, and financial dependence on their employers.
Countries that have weak rule of law, rampant corruption or economies dependent on cheap labor have higher incidences of human trafficking and forced labor, but it happens everywhere. Countries with more robust economies—and laws against trafficking and forced labor—still face the problem.
And rampant consumerism for low-priced goods incentivizes those who want to take advantage of forced labor to keep costs down.
This isn’t a problem for governments alone to solve. This is a problem that requires collaboration between governments, NGOs, companies and consumers.
Document your entire supply chain. Why is this important? Often, companies don’t take their due diligence beyond Tier 1 or Tier 2 suppliers. However, forced labor is often most prevalent in the collection of raw materials, such as cobalt mining or cotton harvesting. Dig deeper so you know WHO is supplying the vendors you rely on.
Conduct a forced labor risk assessment. Forced labor is currently most common in South Asia, China and Central Africa. It is also more common in certain industries, such as mining or agriculture. With the assessment complete, you can ‘right-size’ your risk mitigation process to align with the risk level.
Establish financial penalties in your supplier contracts. You know the saying, “Money talks”? You can exert pressure on key suppliers to mitigate the risk of human trafficking in their own supply chains (and protect yourself at the same time) by requiring that they meet the standards you’ve set—or pay the price.
Monitor for signs of forced labor risk.Due diligence is just one piece of the puzzle. By implementing PESTLE-based risk monitoring, you can stay alert to potential threats as they arise. Isn’t that better than being blind-sided because a supplier you trust made changes in their own practices that put your reputation on the line?
Train your employees and suppliers on spotting the signs. Airlines, bus companies and other transportation-related businesses increasingly provide this type of training. Recently, CSP reported on the vital role that the convenience and fuel-retailer industry can play in ending trafficking.
Human trafficking and the resultant forced labor represents a considerable reputational and financial risk to companies. When news breaks about forced labor in the supply chain, social media can ignite a PR crisis.
Boycotts gain momentum. Class-action suits ensue. Share prices suffer. And trust is lost.
Fortunately, procurement, supply chain and risk management professionals are ideally positioned to help eradicate these types of human rights abuses.