Companies Should Take Page From Government Effort on Anti-slavery
Governments across the globe – including the European Union (EU), Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States (US), and the United Kingdom (UK) – are actively pursuing policies to ensure better procurement decisions are made by businesses. From sustainable procurement to preventing modern-day slavery, ignorance will no longer be considered a justifiable defense. Forward-thinking businesses will join forces with governments and NGOs to get ahead of regulation and tackle this growing global problem.
Among the most recent actions is a resolution adopted by the European Parliament (EP) in October that looks at how EU-level rules on public procurement can contribute to better functioning purchasing practices. This raises interesting considerations about socially responsible public procurement and ethics, as it calls for the adoption of a European code of ethics. In particular, the EP points out that “socially responsible public procurement must take into account supply chains and the risks associated with modern-day slavery, social dumping [a practice of using low-wage labor or moving production to a low-wage country] and human rights violations.” It also notes that efforts must be made to “ensure that goods and services acquired through public procurement are not produced in a manner that violates human rights,” calling on the European Commission to include substantive provisions on ethics in supply chains in expected new guidelines next year on social considerations in public procurement.
Current EU Efforts to End Modern Slavery
The EU’s External Action Service (EEAS) has also addressed the issue of modern slavery, stating that “worldwide, the trafficking of human beings for purposes of forced labour, criminal activities or sexual exploitation affects around 24 million people.”
The UK is currently seeing the first convictions from the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, which requires businesses trading in the UK with a turnover, or top-line sales, of £36 million or more to report annually on the actions they are taking to eliminate modern slavery from their supply chains. In 2016, it was estimated that there were 11,700 victims of modern slavery in the UK alone, with millions more forced into unacceptable working conditions in the global supply chains of UK businesses. The establishment of the office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has been a key lead in the UK effort to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the UN General Assembly in 2017, discussing the country’s actions to “stamp out modern slavery.” This year, the UK’s Environment Agency (EA) further bolstered the UK’s fight against modern slavery with its commitment to work with police and enforcement agencies to eradicate modern-day slavery, specifically in the waste and recycling industry. It plans to do so by training officers to spot signs of exploitation during site inspections. Latest figures from anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice show that two-thirds of victims are reported to have worked within the waste industry.
Australia has recently introduced a modern slavery bill, similar to that of the UK’s, which requires large companies to publish annual statements on measures taken to address modern slavery. Australia is also looking at possible modern slavery risks in their procurement. The bill would help ensure that potential modern slavery risks in government procurement are assessed and addressed. Key elements would also apply to Australian companies and foreign entities carrying out business in Australia.
Governments Collaborate to End Human Trafficking
In 2017, the Governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and US launched a call to action to end forced labor, modern slavery, and human trafficking during the 72nd Meeting of the UN General Assembly, and 80 countries have now endorsed it. This year, the US government joined the UK, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, and Nigeria to affirm the importance of government action to combat human trafficking. At this event, US Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan announced the Principles to Guide Government Action to Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains. The Principles are a framework on which governments can build a strategy to take effective action to prevent human trafficking in public and private sector supply chains.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states, has also prioritized eradicating forced labor and modern-day slavery. In its fight, Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, has stated that the Commonwealth “aims to build on outcomes of other international meetings, including the [UN] Call of Action to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking launched on the side-lines of the 72nd Meeting of the UN General Assembly.” The Secretary General has also stated that “combined action is needed, and a range of approaches, to tackle the issue of modern slavery and promote equality of opportunity.”
Human Trafficking Solution: Supply Chain Transparency
Many industry watchers hope these governmental policies will be picked up by the private sector through increased supply chain transparency and risk assessments. The crimes of modern slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking have often been hidden crimes that take place behind a veil of secrecy, making them difficult to detect in supply chains. Supply chain transparency can help identify riskier suppliers on a variety of topics, and companies can develop plans to address these risks.
However, bear in mind that mitigation plans cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach. A rice farmer in Vietnam may have a different mitigation plan than a rice farmer in Arkansas. So too would a medium-sized textile manufacturer in Canada vs. a small textile entrepreneur in Sri Lanka. Technology can be used to help make supply chains transparent and identify low, medium, and high risks, and mitigation plans can be established to review those medium- and high-risk suppliers on a timeline that makes the most sense for each company’s unique supply chain.
A lot of progress is being made on transparency and socially responsibility, but there’s still much work remaining. By taking a few simple steps and fostering an ethical culture, businesses and governments can address these issues and eradicate modern slavery.
Working Together to Stop Human Trafficking
We commend the important global policy work, but governments can’t go it alone. Governments, NGOs, and businesses must unite to tackle these important concerns. Only through dynamic partnerships can we tackle the growing global problem of preventing modern-day slavery. Regardless of size and industry, businesses should come together, using data and analytics, to provide the needed transparency into supply chains that will help companies make more ethical procurement decisions. NGOs and governments can help provide more granular details to ensure identification of the bad actors and make sure risk assessments can be built on the best and most up-to-date data, and businesses can take these risk assessments and build in policies and mitigation plans to ensure they’re doing business with the most ethical and trustworthy companies. Together we can tackle this global crisis.
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