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Modern Child Slavery and the Corporate Responsibility

The proliferation of child slave labor in the global supply chain is more than just a humanitarian issue – it’s a corporate imperative.

image source: “Child Labour… 🙁” by Amirthanarayanan Rajaravi (CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to estimates from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 152 million children are currently victims of forced labor. The need for corporations to get serious about rooting out such unethical, exploitive, and criminal activity from their supply chains has never been greater. And not just because governments across the globe are stamping down hard on companies that miss or ignore the signs of such activity. It is a corporate imperative from an humanitarian perspective. 

Speaking about modern slavery at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in September 2012, Former U.S. President Barack Obama said: “It ought to concern every person because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.”

Strong words by Obama and rightfully so. It is a ‘debasement of our common humanity’ and corporations with significant presence in the world’s most developed economies, whether knowingly or not, rely on people working in slavery to produce the goods they sell, or have supply chains that can encourage traffickers. 

In an increasingly connected world, criminals are operating under the radar and making sickening profits. According to an ILO report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, slave labor is an estimated $150 billion business more often that not managed by networks of third parties and shell corporations that are backed by organized crime, drug cartels, and terrorist organizations. 

Globally there are over 1.5 billion people living in countries that are affected by conflict, and some 200 million people affected by natural disasters every year. When people are forced to flee their homes, or can’t continue their farming or work because of natural disasters, families, and their children, are plunged further into poverty and are forced into a situation that in order to survive they have to work, no matter how difficult, dangerous, or badly paid.

This is where the exploitative nature of these criminal organizations profit from the subjugation of those most in need. The spotlight then falls on corporate leaders to identify the red flags that are the signals of modern child slavery and proactively do more to combat and eradicate exploitation and forced labor in their supply chains.

But what is actually being done across the world stage to tackle this issue and make corporations accountable? The enforcement of anti-money laundering, anti-slavery, and anti-bribery laws that can be used to penalize corporations in the global supply chain is a step in the right direction to eradicate such activity. However, the complexity of this issue lies with how multinational companies can expose, combat, and police third-party contractors and vendors that could be, or are, exploiting children for their own means. Technology can play a pivotal role in helping organizations tackle such complexities and work towards the eradication of modern slavery.


The spotlight falls on corporate leaders to identify the red flags that are the signals of modern slavery and proactively do more to combat and eradicate exploitation and forced labor in their supply chains.

How technology is helping fight back

A clear business case exists for embedding an ethical approach in an organization’s operations with its suppliers, as well as an overwhelming case from the standpoint of safeguarding human rights. The methods for achieving this outcome require commitment and due diligence but they are well within the scope of any modern organization to achieve.

This is where technology can help organizations tackle the issue of child slave labor. Increasingly organizations are becoming more aware of, and more engaged with, the issues of forced child labor and human rights in supply chains and are turning towards compliance risk management solutions to improve their business conduct and remove the conditions that allow such exploitations to flourish.

Ethics learning also has a part to play because today’s multinational organizations need a behavior model for their employees to recognize the red flags and identify the types of irregularities and patterns of crime associated with modern slavery. 

With a clear mandate to expose unethical behavior, and empowered with the right technology, organizations can help instil awareness of human rights issues that can arise within their industry, and within their supply chains. Despite organizations having vast resources that can be leveraged in the fight against modern slavery, the issue is still rife and the need for corporations to get serious about rooting criminal activity out of their supply chains has never been greater. 

We have a responsibility to make sure that our workers are not being exploited, that they are safe and that relevant employment (including wage and work hour), health & safety and human rights laws and international standards are adhered to.

To abolish modern slavery in all forms, be that child or adult, businesses, corporate leaders, and consumers must actively be part of the solution.