In the fight against human trafficking, organizations have a critical role to play.
Whether it is empowering employees, working with suppliers, or engaging customers, organizations have the ability to make a serious impact on this global human rights crisis.
It's hard to comprehend that there are now twice as many people enslaved in the world as there were in the 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade. According to some researchers, the average modern slave is bought for just $90 USD – compare this to 200 years ago where the average slave was sold for a price tag that equates to $40,000 USD today. As a bit of perspective, humans are being bought and sold for the average price of a monthly cell phone bill.
Though now universally illegal, slavery does still exist and is happening every hour of the day, affecting some 40 million men, women, and children. Many of these victims are trafficked, stripped of their foundational values and structures of civilization, and plunged into one of the largest and fastest-growing organized clandestine criminal enterprises on earth. Slavery represents a $150 billion empire that thrives on the exploitation of the desperate and impoverished.
It is an empire that bridges failed states with weak or no institutions and strickened economies to the advanced high-income post-industrial democracies. As former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry once noted:
"Wherever we find poverty and lack of opportunity… we find not just vulnerability to trafficking, but zones of impunity where traffickers can prey on their victims."
Former U.S. Secretary of State
From factories and fisheries to brothels and migrant camps, modern slavery touches our daily lives and continues to work its way into global supply chains, where some of the goods and services that we purchase every day may be tainted by the blood and sweat of forced labor.
The buck stops here
Through extensive media interest and increasing levels of scrutiny by consumers, organizations have seen the reputational and financial implications for business grow, as a result of ties to modern slavery, human trafficking, or child labor. Regardless of whether they are legally obligated to or not, corporations should constantly be assessing and identifying slavery and trafficking risks across their operations and within their supply chains. These risks include consumer backlash and potential shareholder divestment, among others.
When it comes to supply chains and reputational risk, cast your mind back to the 1990s, where a global sportswear giant was plagued with reports that it was employing child labor under sweatshop conditions within its supply chain. The company's image was tarnished and its bottom line sales took a nosedive. It was then forced to spend the next decade cleaning up its act to hold on to consumers.
This murky world of modern slaves in supply chains is an abuse of human rights in the pursuit of profits. Organizations have a duty not to indulge or tolerate it, whether deliberately or recklessly. This isn't charity or philanthropy; it is how an organization should run its core business.
By tackling modern slavery head-on, companies have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in responsible business practices that can translate into more resilient and transparent supply chains and increased brand equity.
Tackling the weak links in supply chains
From cosmetics, clothes, shrimp and smartphones, supply chains are incredibly complex, often with multiple layers spanning several countries. This alone makes it challenging to pinpoint and tackle exploitation, which is why detecting and eliminating modern slavery from a global supply chain is no small task.
Organizations need to first evaluate the effectiveness of their existing supply chain management systems and leverage technology and partnerships to connect those in sectors at risk with relevant stakeholders along the supply chain. Employee training is also a key component to tackle modern slavery for it is a clandestine crime. Being able to spot the signs is critical to ensure an organization's supply chain is slave-free.
Such actions will be challenging for organizations given the pressure on driving costs down and the complex nature of supply chains. However, they should see this as an opportunity to get ahead of the issue, taking the time to invest in supplier relationships, increase transparency, and work toward building more resilient and ethical supply chains.