Three Ways Business is Combating Modern Slavery

By Shubha Chandra


What is Modern Slavery?

There is no globally agreed upon definition of modern slavery but it is an umbrella term used to describe the exploitative practices of bonded labor, forced labor, human trafficking (labor and sex), child slavery and forced marriage.

It may come as a surprise to many people that slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking continue to be critical issues for business in the twenty-first century: there are over 40.3 million people globally that are victims of modern slavery today, and at least 16 million of them are being exploited in the private sector in conditions of forced labor. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has identified over 100 goods presumed to be produced with forced or child labor around the world. Victims of modern slavery produce the fruits and vegetables that we consume, the mobile phones and electronics we purchase, and the clothes we wear. Further, many companies, their employees, and the communities in which they operate are impacted by a growing market for human trafficking: after drugs and arms sales, human trafficking is now the world’s third biggest crime business with an annual profit over $150 billion.

The business community has a critical role to play in the fight against modern slavery. Modern slavery is a practice that spans all business sectors and geographies. A company’s drive to attract customers with lower prices and faster production in shorter time periods increases the likelihood that workers will be exploited and be placed into situations of modern slavery. The highest risk of modern slavery tends to exist in the lower tiers of a company’s supply chain where the workforce comprises marginalized workers with limited knowledge of their rights or access to labor protections, as is the case with many temporary employees, migrant workers, women and youth.  

The Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (GBCAT) is a collaborative initiative of BSR which aims to harness the power of business across sectors to prevent and reduce the incidence of modern slavery, and support survivors in their reintegration into the workforce. Together with our company members - Amazon, Carlson, Google, Kering, Microsoft, and The Coca-Cola Company – we are advancing progress on combating modern slavery in three ways: 

  1. Enhancing the capabilities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to prevent and address modern slavery in their operations and participate in responsible global supply chains.

    The greatest risk of modern slavery lies deep in a company’s supply chain, particularly concentrated within the operations of SMEs. After consulting with SME business providers, we realized that while SMEs are on the frontlines of this global fight, they often lack the knowledge and/or capabilities to manage the risk of modern slavery effectively.

    To address this gap, GBCAT is developing a toolkit tailored to SMEs on managing modern slavery risks. The toolkit will explain the relevance of modern slavery to the SME community using real world examples and focus on key risks associated with modern slavery, such as working hours, use of migrant labor, and retention of identity documents.

  2. Enabling business to support modern slavery survivors through employment opportunities and access to job skills training.

    Limited economic opportunities is one of the root causes of modern slavery. By providing good jobs to ready and interested survivors of modern slavery, we aim to break the cycle of exploitation and prevent any re-exploitation of individuals. 

    GBCAT is developing a survivor employment guide which explains why companies should hire modern slavery survivors and what companies can do to create a trauma-informed workplace that both supports survivors and helps them thrive. 

  3. Providing resources and guidance to business to navigate the landscape of anti-slavery organizations, training and tools

    While there are a plethora of organizations collaborating with business to address modern slavery risks, many companies are not yet aware of the presence of these organizations. 

    GBCAT developed the Interactive Map for Business of Anti-Human Trafficking Organizations to help companies identify the organizations that are partnering with the private sector to address modern slavery challenges, and how they are working with business (e.g. running modern slavery trainings for companies), Our interactive database currently reflects 90 different organizations around the world that business can look to when determining partnership opportunities. We will continue to add new organizations to the Map as they emerge, so we can make the Map a more robust public resource. 

Above are the three ways we are addressing modern slavery risks in company operations and global supply chains. As the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights articulate, companies have a responsibility to ensure their activities do not cause or contribute to human rights harm, which includes modern slavery. GBCAT’s work is part of a growing movement where all companies are expected to take action to identify and address modern slavery risks. Developments such the ratification of Modern Slavery Acts in the United Kingdom and Australia, corporate benchmarks, and heightened interest from investors and consumers on the conditions under which products are made, are just a few examples of this new norm.

As we commemorate the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, GBCAT welcomes all companies to join us in our shared fight against modern slavery. 

Why Businesses Should Care about the Use of Forced Labor in Xinjiang

by Mark P. Lagon and Olivia Enos

The world was shocked when reports emerged in late 2017 that several hundred thousand, now likely over one million, individuals from the Xinjiang region of China were being held in so-called political “reeducation” facilities. As more information surfaces, the reality of what is going on there couldn’t be further from educational. Instead, an unknown number of individuals may be subject to forced labor, among other abuses, simply for being a Muslim living in Xinjiang, China.

China occasionally acknowledges and at other times denies the existence of reeducation facilities in Xinjiang, but their existence is frankly, undeniable. Satellite imagery and firsthand testimony from dozens of individuals previously in these facilities provides irrefutable evidence of their existence. When authorities in the Chinese government do acknowledge their existence, however, they often claim that they are de-radicalizing a population by what they call “Sinicizing,” or effectively secularizing, their religious practice, requiring them to learn Mandarin, and providing alternative means of employment.

This is an excerpt of an article published at Thomson Reuters. To read the full article, please click here.

Jobs Must Be Part of the Solution to Human Trafficking


By Mar Brettmann and Mark P. Lagon

Human trafficking doesn’t just happen in faraway places like India’s brick kilns or Cambodia’s brothels. Over 8,500 victims of human trafficking cases were reported in the United States last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. There is no greater blow to human dignity than a person being forced to perform work or sex acts against their will.

One case of human trafficking involved 56 people, most of them Mexican deaf-mutes, who were enslaved to work as panhandlers in the New York subway system. The victims were illegally smuggled in to the country and then forced to work 18-hours days begging and peddling trinkets.

They were held in debt bondage by their traffickers, who confiscated their daily earnings and kept them enslaved. One rehabilitated survivor ended up in a custodial job at Liberty Island (the Statue of Liberty). Unfortunately, most stories of human trafficking do not end with the poetic justice of attaining a job at a symbol of liberation.

Trafficked people are often society’s most vulnerable. Coming in two forms, sex trafficking and labor trafficking, human trafficking takes place when someone uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into work or a commercial sex act or when a minor is bought or sold for sex.

This is an excerpt of an article published at The Hill. To read the full article, please click here.

Clarity, Consensus, and Corporate Action on Human Trafficking

James Stewart and Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

James Stewart and Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

By Mark P. Lagon

The classic movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is about a man who speaks truth to power in the morass of national politics—even as his voice weakens. Well, another Mr. Smith is leaving Washington: Lamar Smith of Texas is retiring after three decades in Congress. His example offers lessons about what corporations, citizens, and public leaders must understand about human trafficking.

As a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer assigned to help rationalize Senate and House versions of the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 in conference committee, I can confirm that its architects were colorful. Christian conservative Senator Sam Brownback had once washed the feet of a departing congressional staffer. Congressman Sam Gejdenson chomped on unlit cigars during conferencing sessions. Paul Wellstone was a stand-up guy on the left end of the Senate—that is, he was always standing and pacing, because of a bad back. Like much of the other most consequential human rights legislation since the Reagan Administration, the bill was primarily authored by Chris Smith of New Jersey, personally and relentlessly insisting on details like country tier rankings and sanctions in talks with Executive Branch lawyers—a marvel to watch.


Back to the other Smith. Colorful too, Lamar Smith was important not as an ardent backer of the TVPA 19 years ago, but as a skeptic. As the then Judiciary Subcommittee Chair for Immigration, Smith was convinced undocumented migrants would game the immigration system if humanitarian visas were offered, fraudulently claiming they were victims. He insisted on a cap of 5,000 “T” visas per year in the final legislation. The “T” visa is only eligible to victims of human trafficking who are willing to assist law enforcement in an investigation or prosecution of an act of trafficking.

Well, the cap has never been an obstacle to “T” visas being issued, partly because of minimal false claims by undocumented persons, but also because survivors are reluctant to come forward for fear of being deemed criminals.

What are the lessons now that Mr. Smith goes from Washington?

First, humanitarian visas are not being issued hand-over-fist in the U.S. or any country, in large part because authorities look for and find sex trafficking more readily than labor trafficking. The 2018 annual State Department Trafficking in Persons Report indicates that only 23.8 percent of the 100,409 trafficking victims identified around the world in 2017 were exploited primarily for labor rather than as sex providers. Yet international experts suggest that in fact, rather than representing that one-quarter proportion, labor trafficking accounts for at least three quarters of trafficking incidents. Furthermore, labor traffickers enjoy impunity: only 4.8 percent of the 17,880 prosecutions and only 4.7 percent of the 7,045 convictions of traffickers were related primarily to labor exploitation. The breakdown of these statistics into labor versus sex trafficking was instituted over ten years ago when I oversaw the report as Ambassador. Since then, not enough progress has been made on redressing the imbalance.  

Second, Lamar Smith’s original skepticism illustrates that confusion—sometimes willfully sewn confusion—obscures the relationship between undocumented status and trafficking. Some undocumented migrants are subjected to sufficient force, fraud, and coercion (the tests under US law and the global treaty on trafficking) to be deemed victims of human trafficking. Moreover, trafficking victims need not be undocumented, as shown by guest workers coming to the Arabian Gulf or to the United States. Invective about “caravans” and conflation of human smuggling (illicit migration) with human trafficking (gross exploitation) by politicians is rife today.

Third, new political leaders must step up to preserve the consensus and understanding of human trafficking. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, also retiring, announced that Senator Rob Portman of Ohio would step into his shoes as the leading Republican voice in the Senate on trafficking. Democrat Amy Klobuchar, as a successor to Paul Wellstone from Minnesota in the Senate, is just the sort of sober former prosecutor committed to the issue that is needed. And despite the paucity of Senate confirmations and the larger political chaos and rancor explaining it, the newly-confirmed Ambassador-At-Large, John Richmond, is supremely qualified in the anti-trafficking field as a prosecutor and trainer of law enforcement globally, and is a respected player among faith-based and secular non-profits.

The confusion and acrimonious nature of today’s politics means that fighting modern slavery should not be left only to politicians or even worthy nonprofits. Business must continue to step up. Maybe some of our prominent political leaders have forgotten that wise foreign policy is based on both interests and values. But business hasn’t. Fighting trafficking is both good and good business: it minimizes reputational harm, inspires employees with a culture of decency, and cultivates the well-being of communities of workers and consumers. The Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (GBCAT) stands ready to help business take up this challenge by:

(1)  providing navigation and guidance on human trafficking tools and organizations;

(2)  enhancing the capabilities of small-and medium-sized companies in high-risk supply chains to address and reduce trafficking in business operations; and

(3)  supporting trafficking survivors to reclaim their dignity through job skills training and access to decent work opportunities in business.

As he retires, Mr. Smith leaves us with three key lessons. Look for incidents of both sex and labor trafficking. Don’t let hot debates on migration cloud understanding of trafficking as slavery-like exploitation. And business has an essential role to play—in addition to political leaders—in leading the effort to stamp out modern slavery.  


About the Author

Mark P. Lagon is Chief Policy Officer at Friends of the Global Fight and Distinguished Senior Scholar at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is a Co-Founder and Steering Group member of the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking (GBCAT). He served as Ambassador-At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Person under President George W. Bush, and as CEO of Polaris

Undoing Slavery: Business Coalition Tackles Unmet Needs

By Mark P. Lagon

Mark P. Lagon is Chief Policy Officer at Friends of the Global Fight, and Distinguished Senior Scholar at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.  He is a Co-Founder and Steering Group member of GBCAT.  He served as Ambassador-At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Person under President George W. Bush, and as CEO of Polaris

As a practitioner and academic specializing in global institutions and partnerships, I know first-hand that both are at their best when they articulate a clear vision of how they benefit people and of their particular comparative advantage and value add. These imperatives are especially true for collaborations in the private sector. 

The newly defined focus areas of the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (GBCAT), along with the launch of a new website today, do just that.

The group’s vision of fighting modern slavery focuses on three areas where business can carry out a unique role in the anti-trafficking movement: (1) support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in our supply chains to understand and right-size their response to modern slavery; (2) support survivors in breaking the cycle of entrapment and getting empowered and employed; and (3) help other global businesses navigate the complex landscape of anti-slavery organizations and resources.

This clarity of vision is where the group has come to eight years after it was conceived.

GBCAT was the brainchild of Robert Rigby-Hall and Dawn Conway, and the product of dialogue they spurred from 2010 to 2012 between corporations attentive to rule of law and justice. They asked me to help get the group off the ground, having served as U.S. Ambassador-At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons and as CEO of the leading U.S. anti-trafficking nonprofit, Polaris.

At the State Department, we turned a spotlight on slavery not only for commercial sex but also for labor, including of documented guest workers and people never crossing borders. At Polaris we showed how those outside government bureaucracy could most nimbly operate a national trafficking hotline, and benefit from the technical know-how of a business.

Eight years ago, three things were apparent.

First, the effort to combat trafficking had enlisted the energy and ingenuity of the public and nonprofit sectors, but was leaving a huge asset on the table: business. 

Second, to the degree corporations were working on fighting trafficking, it was confined to particular business sectors, such as apparel, electronics, or travel and hospitality; and to confronting child sex trafficking, pioneered by Carlson's rallying businesses to sign the code of conduct of ECPAT.

Third, those business coalitions that did cut across sectors were looking at human rights in general but not at the most acute issue—modern slavery—threatening to taint brands.

Our dialogue among businesses led to the formation of a cross-sectoral business alliance, focused only on human trafficking understood as extreme exploitation for sex and labor. When world leaders met at the UN General Assembly in September of 2012, President Obama announced the launch of GBCAT.  

David Arkless, another co-founder and now advisor to GBCAT, went on to champion the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act, a model for all nations to tackle trafficking through supply chain transparency rather than micro-managerial regulation. At GBCAT’s launch in 2010, David’s company had an acute sense of businesses’ competency compared to government and nonprofit partners, especially when it comes to job training and placement. The latter are, after all, the most significant ways for trafficking survivors to durably reclaim their dignity, and are a core benefit that global businesses can provide to survivors.

Since GBCAT’s founding, there has been a healthy growth in the array of business groupings and dialogues related to trafficking. With BSR now serving as the GBCAT Secretariat, GBCAT is avoiding duplication of other efforts and pursuit of activities with limited impact, focusing instead on three high-impact areas.

First, GBCAT stands as a navigator for the dizzying proliferation of information on hazards of trafficking, of resources and partners, and government requirements and regulations. GBCAT will offer companies a one-stop-shop to navigate this landscape.

Second, large multinationals with elaborate corporate responsibility and supplier accountability units are not the only ones trying to make sense of these problems, partners, and public sector prescriptions. GBCAT and its larger members are specializing in developing tools and resources for the vast majority of business entities in the world—SMEs (companies like Boost Engagement, where Dawn Conway is CEO).

Third, as David Arkless foresaw, GBCAT is partnering to help go beyond shelter, medical care, and social services, which governments and nonprofits deliver, to the game-changer for trafficking survivors—employment.  Exemplary NGOs in this area include BEST in Seattle and the Market Project operating in Uganda. GBCAT’s aim is to scale such efforts with a training and job placement platform to match survivors, based on their talents, with employers rightly willing to take a chance on them in the diversity of their workforce.

As a member of the GBCAT Steering Committee, I’ve seen that the expanded GBCAT member companies are “all in” to tackle these three unmet needs. Other businesses should not only take advantage of the advice and best practices that GBCAT has to offer, they should join the alliance and stand shoulder to shoulder with these far-reaching and iconic companies. 

Doing so will deliver value for a company’s shareholders, employees, customers, communities, and partners—and most of all for the women and men who avoid or transcend trafficking. Globalization need not cause slavery, and businesses have a valuable leadership role to play in making sure that’s the case.

Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking Expands Scope and Steps Up Efforts to End Trafficking

Major global companies have renewed their commitment to the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (gBCAT) through an expanded membership and scope of work. Formed in 2010, gBCAT has provided a unique forum for business to understand how all forms of modern slavery affect their operations and supply chains, and to design effective and pragmatic solutions to combat traffickers. BSR—a global nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable business—has been appointed secretariat of the initiative.