Three ways business is combating modern slavery

Three ways business is combating modern slavery

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 21st century: Over 40.3 million people globally 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 (PDF) 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. Furthermore, many companies, their employees and the communities in which they operate are affected by a growing market for human trafficking: After drugs and arms sales, human trafficking is 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, 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 to 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 a root cause 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 a plethora of organizations collaborate 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 (running modern slavery trainings for companies). Our interactive database reflects 90 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. 

As the United Nations 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 as 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.

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