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Three Ways Business is Combating Modern Slavery

By Shubha Chandra

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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. 

Jobs Must Be Part of the Solution to Human Trafficking

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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.