9 Experts On How Companies Can Fight Forced Labor In Supply Chains
Source Intelligence surveyed 9 forced labor prevention experts to provide a well-rounded look at the issue of human rights abuses lurking in supply chains and the different ways companies can take action against it. We asked:
- From your experience, what is something you would like businesses to know about forced labor in supply chains, and
- What is one thing they can do to join the fight?
1. Understand Your Forced Labor Risks
“Forced labor is a global challenge. It has its roots in poverty, weak governance, informal economic activity, lack of access to social protection, low awareness of labor and human rights, humanitarian crises, and discrimination. Migrant workers and women workers are disproportionately at risk of forced labor. While understanding risks and taking effective action in company operations and supply chains is crucial, working collectively to improve national frameworks leads to sustainable solutions for national and global companies. We must eradicate forced labor at its root.
In addition to individual company action in operations and supply chains, joining collective initiatives that enable companies to scale action will have long-term benefits for the company and support the eradication of forced labor. For example, the ILO Global Business Network on Forced Labour offers an opportunity for companies and business networks to tap into ILO expertise and work with us on the ground to address forced labor at its root.”
- Laura Greene, Program Technical Officer, International Labour Organization; Twitter: @ilo
About Laura Greene and the International Labour Organization
Laura is currently managing the International Labour Organization’s Global Business Network on Forced Labour (GBNFL). Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Laura oversees the ILO GBNFL’s activities focused on promoting collective action towards the elimination of forced labor and human trafficking.
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Business Network on Forced Labour (GBNFL) brings together businesses of all sizes and sectors, and their networks, from around the world to eradicate forced labor. ILO GBNFL members and partners work to engage smaller enterprises, develop resources and tools, and devise local solutions that help shape national frameworks to create lasting change.
2. Prepare For Mandatory Human Rights Laws
“Let’s start with the basic fact that forced labor is a human rights abuse that is morally and ethically abhorrent and its acceptance in supply chains holds great reputational risks for companies. Risks that can affect their bottom line. Forced labor has no place in supply chains and there is no justification for it. Globally, hundreds of millions of adult workers are unemployed and willing to fill jobs that provide a living wage and safe working conditions.
The European Union is in the process of implementing Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence Legislation that would require companies to eliminate forced labor and child labor in their supply chains. France, Australia, and the UK have implemented their own versions, and Germany, Switzerland, Finland, and the Netherlands are working on implementation too. We call on all companies to issue a press statement that they support Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence legislation. This statement should also be displayed prominently and permanently on their websites. Full implementation of Due Diligence will create a human rights ‘level playing field’ that is vital for workers and beneficial for companies.”
- Reid Maki, Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition and the Director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League; Twitter: @ChildLaborCLC
About Reid Maki and the Child Labor Coalition
Reid Maki is the coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition and the Director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League. He has worked on child labor issues for the last 25 years.
The Child Labor Coalition, formed in 1989, actively works to end child exploitation by testifying before state and federal legislatures and agencies on child labor, presenting comments in response to regulatory initiatives, creating and distributing educational and public awareness materials, initiating research, and more.
3. Take a Risk-Based Approach
“Forced labor is not limited to particular products, industries, geographies or supply chains. With regulatory and commercial consequences increasing, companies cannot afford to be complacent. It is important to have in place a tailored risk-based compliance program that takes forced labor into account.”
- Michael Littenberg, Senior Partner at Ropes & Gray; Twitter: @RopesGray
About Michael Littenberg and Ropes & Gray
Michael is a senior partner at Ropes & Gray. For more than 30 years, Michael has been active in advising leading public and private companies on ESG, corporate social responsibility, and supply chain compliance matters, and he is widely viewed as one of the leading practitioners in this emerging area.
Ropes & Gray is a leading global law firm, with more than 1,400 legal professionals serving clients in key centers of business, technology, and government.
4. Know The Working Conditions In Your Supply Chain
“Based on my research, there are several issues about which to be concerned. First, is that extreme forms of labor exploitation such as human trafficking and debt bondage exist and thrive within a wider spectrum of exploitation and lack of worker rights. Second, when understood as a spectrum of rights issues, then there is actually a lot more that can (and should) be done to reduce the worst forms and improve conditions for most workers. Third, addressing worker’s rights is most effective when workers’ voices and their own organizations are centered.
There are a lot of organizations and coalitions that are here to help. Giving them access to determining just labor contracts and ethical (and accountable) relations with employers is paramount.”
- Dr. Jennifer Suchland, ACLS/Mellon Foundation Scholars & Society fellow at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center; Twitter: @FreedomCenter
About Jennifer Suchland and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Dr. Jennifer Suchland is an associate professor at The Ohio State University with affiliations in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures. She currently is an ACLS/Mellon Foundation Scholars & Society fellow at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is is a museum of conscience and an education center for inclusive freedom around the globe. Rooted in the stories of the Underground Railroad, their mission is to challenge and inspire everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.
5. You Can’t Always Take Your Supplier’s Word For It
“Forced labor is endemic in supply chains and there is a moral and legal duty on businesses to root it out. Investigating and tackling forced labor in business supply chains is not at odds with making profits: building a more sustainable supply chain in which workers’ rights are respected makes long-term business sense as consumers become increasingly aware.
Yet top-down audit-focused approaches often fail to detect forced labor. Case in point: A 2018 investigation by The Guardian identified forced labor at the Malaysian glove manufacturer Top Glove (which has been widely reported since). Yet the same factory was audited 28(!) times by well-known international audit firms in 2017 and 2018, and none of the audits detected forced labor. Concerns with audit-focused approaches include the potential for a conflict of interest between auditors and those commissioning the audits, exclusion of workers’ voices, threats and coercion of workers to lie when they are interviewed, and falsification of results.
Companies should implement mandatory human rights due diligence with a specific focus on forced labor risks, recognizing specifically the importance of transparency and knowledge of the full spectrum of supply chains; ensuring there is access to remedy for workers whose rights are abused, and introducing systems for hearing workers voices to mitigate risks.
Forced labor thrives in situations of inequality and discrimination, impacting workers in the most vulnerable conditions, such as migrant and women workers. Freedom of association is an effective tool for addressing forced labor as it gives power to the workers. Where workers can exercise their right to freely associate and bargain collectively, strong improvements in wages and working conditions have been evidenced, across sectors and sourcing countries.
Rather than focusing on a top-down audit-only approach, it is critical that worker participation and engagement are at the core of any company’s strategy to improve respect for workers’ rights. Companies should ensure that workers in their supply chains are enabled to contribute to the development, implementation, and monitoring of policies and decisions that affect them, ranging from developing standards and grievance mechanisms to monitoring their implementation.”
- Felicitas Weber, Project Director of KnowTheChain, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; Twitter: @BHRRC
About Felicitas Weber and Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
Felicitas joined the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in 2016. She is the Project Director of KnowTheChain, a partnership between Humanity United, Sustainalytics, Verité, and the Resource Centre that is ranking the 180 largest global ICT, food, and apparel companies on their efforts to address forced labor risks in their supply chains. She also supports the 160 global investors signatories to the KnowTheChain investor statement with resources and engagement tools. From 2011-2016, Felicitas worked for the ESG Engagements team at the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, managing the initiative’s investor-company engagements on social issues. She holds a Master’s in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics from Universität Leipzig.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is a non-profit that tracks the positive and negative human rights impacts of more than 9,000 companies worldwide. In 2019, the Resource Centre took up over 600 allegations of human rights violations with companies, with a response rate of 70%. The Resource Centre has a global team of around 60 members based in over 20 locations in every region of the world.
6. Uyghur Forced Labor Requires Urgent Action
“Forced labor programs in the Uyghur region of China taint an enormous portion of the international supply chain. Companies are complicit in, and indeed financially benefiting from, the massive system of internment and forced labor that has emerged in Xinjiang/East Turkestan in the last several years if they are sourcing products made of raw materials mined or grown in the region (cotton, tomatoes, polysilicon, to name a few), or supplied by factories located in Xinjiang (there are at least 3500 in the textile industry alone), or made with Uyghur labor anywhere in China (in at least dozens of factories across the nation).
We are now at a tipping point. It is no longer plausible for companies to deny knowledge of this unprecedented human rights crisis. Complicity is more likely than not in many industries. Companies should immediately trace their products down to the raw materials to identify where they are supporting this oppressive system. Companies must extract themselves from affected supply chains when they identify them. No single solution or platform is currently adequate to the task of identifying the presence of Xinjiang forced labor in a supply chain. Traditional due diligence has failed.
Anything short of full visibility into the supply chain encourages forced labor in China and elsewhere. It is time for companies to take urgent action.”
- Laura T. Murphy, Ph.D. Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University; Twitter: @LauraTMurphy
About Laura Murphy and Sheffield Hallam University
Dr. Laura T. Murphy is the Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at Sheffield Hallam University.
The Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University is a leading center for social justice and human rights. It provides a vibrant environment at the cutting edge of legal and criminal justice practice which prepares students for excellence in their chosen professional career.
7. Cheap Labor Usually Means Forced Labor
“It is so critical for businesses to stop forced labor and other human rights abuses in their supply chains! All too often, cheap labor in America and internationally means labor trafficking. It may save you money, but those workers are all humans that deserve decent wages and proper treatment. They are people just like yourself, with dreams and needs. Unless you build a robot to just push out the work for cheap, hire humans for regular wages who can represent you and your company. They each have skills and will value the opportunity to earn for their future.
One way businesses can easily join forces against forced labor is by partnering with an organization like ours to have a protocol against Human Trafficking in their business. We’ve helped many victims of Labor and Human Trafficking and know firsthand how rampant these crimes are going unseen in supply chains around the world.”
- Susie Harvill, CEO/Founder of Advocates For Freedom
About Susie Harvill and Advocates For Freedom
Ms. Harvill is considered an Expert trainer on Human Trafficking for law enforcement in Mississippi for the Police Academy, FBI, and other Federal and State agencies. She holds many certifications on Child Abuse, Domestic Abuse, Child Endangerment, Child Exploitation, Department of Homeland Security & ICE, Department of Human Services, Trauma of Human Trafficking, Surveillance and Rescue Training, Pornography, The Addiction; Chaired a Command Center in Mississippi during the Super Bowl in N. O., LA. and attend and speak in National Conferences across the U. S. Ms. Harvill has a BA degree and is retired from a career in Human Resources for the private and public sectors and is a sought after speaker bringing awareness about Human Trafficking and is helping to stop this injustice. She empowers the general public to take an active part in this fight.
Advocates For Freedom is a 501 (c)3 organization that has helped many victims of labor and commercial sex trafficking. Domestic Minor Trafficking is where the organization has found the most need to focus. Human Trafficking is the number two crime in America.
8. Root Out Forced Labor By Identifying Risks
“Around half of all exploitation (and this includes child labor), happens in the operations and supply chains of businesses. That’s tens of millions of people worldwide.
Businesses could make a huge difference to modern slavery, given their resources. The one thing they could do is work with an organization like Unseen that helps businesses of all sizes root out exploitation in their supply chains and mitigate against future risks.”
- Andrew Wallis, Co-Founder of Unseen; Twitter: @UnseenUK
About Andrew Wallis and Unseen
Andrew Wallis chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report ‘It happens here: Equipping the United Kingdom to fight Modern Slavery’, now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. He says he started wanting to work on modern slavery when “a colleague in my previous job returned from a work trip to Ukraine recounting how he had been on the scene as a woman was about to be recruited by traffickers (fortunately he had managed to prevent it). What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate (Garbers, now an Unseen Director) and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue.The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began. But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing, we wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.”
Unseen is working towards a world without slavery. They provide safe houses and support in the community for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery. Unseen also runs the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline and works with individuals, communities, business, governments, other charities and statutory agencies to stamp out slavery for good.
9. Leverage AI to Support Full Supply Chain Transparency
Sadly, slavery still exists in our modern world in the form of forced labor. Forced labor can go unnoticed by companies all over the world due to a lack of transparency in the supply chain. For example, the average U.S. business interacts with 500 Tier 1 suppliers. But each of those suppliers, in turn have their own suppliers and so on. Add on distributors, brokers, and trading houses and you’ve got an extremely complex web of business interactions.
How to tackle this complex issue? Transparency, partnerships and technology. The desire, or even better, demand for transparency will drive change. This must be both driven from the bottom up and the top down in order for change to be relevant and sustainable. Partnering with industry experts from both the public and private sectors ensures resources are allocated adequately, intelligently, and frankly, respectfully.
A third party compliance solution provider like Source Intelligence leverages technology to fully trace supply chains, collect data, visualize the data and facilitate transparency. At Source Intelligence, we use AI and machine learning to assess risk so businesses have visibility into where forced labor may exist in the supply chain and make smart - the right - business decisions to mitigate that risk.
- Dr. Jennifer Kraus, Co-founder at Source Intelligence; Twitter: @SourceIntel
About Jennifer Kraus and Source Intelligence
Dr. Jennifer Kraus has over 30 years of experience providing environmental, health, safety, and sustainability services to customers around the world. Prior to co-founding Source Intelligence®, Dr. Kraus was President of Global Environmental Consulting Company, Inc. (GECCo, Inc.). Dr. Kraus also served as an associate with Dames & Moore, environmental manager for General Dynamics Electronics Division, and safety engineer with Litton Guidance and Control Systems. Dr. Kraus is a former board member of the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, a congressional advisory committee on environmental and infrastructure issues along the US-Mexico Border; the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board; and the San Diego Industrial Environmental Association. Dr. Kraus completed her doctoral studies in public health, epidemiology at the UCSD School of Medicine and the San Diego State Graduate School of Public Health; she received her master’s degree in public health from the UCLA Graduate School of Public Health and her bachelor’s degree in biology from Princeton University.
Source Intelligence has been automating supply chain compliance for over a decade. Source Intelligence uses AI and machine learning technology to gather and validate supply chain data for over 300,000 companies for due diligence, regulatory compliance, risk management, and ESG initiatives. Source Intelligence has award-winning supply chain forced labor solutions, including Anti Human Trafficking programs and Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention.