Part 1 of a 2-part series
Slavery and human trafficking are still prevalent in America today. An estimated 17,500 foreign nationals and 200,000 Americans are being trafficked into and within the United States every year, 80% of which are women and children. In fact, modern slavery is the fastest-growing organized crime, with more than 40 million worldwide victims. This problem—which happens out of our sight—continues to line human traffickers’ pockets with $150 billion every year.
Those stark facts underscore that this is truly a global crisis, and organizations have a duty to pay attention, remind our fellow humans to be vigilant, and do their part to help eradicate it. At the core, there must be close inspection of the supply chain – but that’s often easier said than done. It’s very difficult for companies to track each and every layer of their supply chain to root out trouble, and the responsibility can be overwhelming.
When we talk to businesses today, many are still figuring out the right approach for eradicating human trafficking in their supply chain — but some haven’t made it a priority yet. That’s in part because knowing what to do is one thing, but people say they also need to weigh the risk it will bring to their company and employees, along with the investment it requires. That may be why many companies are interested in how other organizations handle it. In fact, “What’s everyone else doing?” is the most common question we get.
As unsettling as a delayed approach may sound given this sensitive issue, it makes sense from a business perspective. If there's a new regulation that may impact your global supply chain, your brand’s public image or your stock price, an executive’s reaction may likely be to delay action as long as legally possible or to just meet the regulatory minimum.
To foster ongoing conversation, I put together the most common questions we get from companies on this topic.
The goal is to tackle each concern with transparency and clarity, and to answer the ethical questions that come up, while also considering your company’s financial and operational requirements.
Q: Why are we responsible for our supplier's supplier's supplier?
A: Human traffickers are sophisticated; they prey on the most vulnerable people, often in less-regulated countries and they create systems to keep people enslaved. Because it is so profitable, traffickers will stop at nothing to maintain these abhorrent practices.
The only way to truly stop our war against modern slavery is by striking at the root of the problem—where the funding of human trafficking begins.
The unfortunate truth is, many large companies—possibly yours—could be unknowingly feeding these forced labor organizations and keeping them alive. They rake in billions of dollars each year, and can hide behind layers of companies whose subsidiaries use slave labor. The world is depending on ethical organizations to refuse to do business with these suppliers at every level and cut off their resources.
Dun & Bradstreet is also committed to minimizing the impact of human trafficking in our world through the use of data. We help companies understand whether they are potentially contributing to the scourge of modern slavery with our Human Trafficking Risk Index.
Q: What is my company legally responsible for?
Here's a quick summary of the major regulations that exist now and how they affect your organization:
1. U.S. Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act
- Impacts any company involved in international trade with the U.S.
- Bans any goods or services produced by forced labor from being imported.
- Requires that any merchandise denied entry be reported to the federal government.
2. The U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulations Subpart 22.17
- Impacts employees and agents of federal contractors and subcontractors.
- Prohibits denying access to employees’ identity documents, misleading recruitment, and charging recruitment fees.
- Prohibits providing sub-standard housing, failing to pay return transportation costs, and failing to provide employment contracts.
3. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act
- Impacts retailers and manufacturers with annual gross receipts of $100 million+, and property or salaries in California that total more than $50,000.
- Companies must disclose how supply chains are verified, audit suppliers, and train employees to identify risks.
4. UK Modern Slavery Act
- Impacts UK companies 36 million pounds or more in revenue.
- Requires an annual statement of all the steps the organization takes to ensure no human trafficking is taking place.
There are no enforced fines for these regulations, but there’s talk of that coming soon, especially with Prime Minister Theresa May's full support on the issue.
So while there is no legal punishment if you don’t take action, there is the risk of brand damage if something is discovered in your supply chain and you did nothing to prevent it.
Are companies complying?
A majority of companies are not complying. These human rights laws are relatively new, and it will take time for companies to learn the laws, investigate what’s happening in their supply chains, and take appropriate action. It’s a multi-step process.
The good news, from what we’ve seen at Dun & Bradstreet, is that some big companies are taking decisive action, which will encourage others to follow suit. We’ve seen them investigate their supply chain, or work with us to discover their high-risk supplier families, and take targeted action.
If it’s not legally required, why should I take action now?
There are four major reasons to take action now.
- These regulations are expected to tighten, and fines can be added at any point. It’s best to prepare now to avoid last-minute scrambling.
- As social media becomes more powerful, brand equity can be damaged in seconds.
- Investors are paying attention to more than your current stock price. They are paying attention to risk, and it’s understood that if you’re depending on a faulty and unsustainable supply chain, that is a big risk for a business.
- Finally, this is an issue of integrity: winning on fair terms while doing good for the world. These regulations are about saving people who have been kidnapped, and they are about preventing more people from being kidnapped. It's hard to ignore the significance of this human rights crisis when 10% of UK businesses found evidence of modern slavery in their supply chains—a rise of 6% since the act came into effect.
Action is often driven by regulation, but ideally it should be driven by your company’s mission, values and goals—your deeper purpose. Your action becomes a strategic choice, rather than a reaction to get drowned out when everyone else does the same.
There are other benefits to being a leader in this space. While it can be hard to measure and generate ROI in the short term, a strong stance shows customers and employees that you mean well for the world, and that it’s about more than just the numbers, which can improve growth and company reputation for the long run.
Human trafficking is a complex, heart-wrenching problem – not just another checkbox to review with legal. It concerns human safety and freedom of life. It’s personal. If any company inadvertently has a hand in enabling human trafficking, they are responsible for standing up against it.
What is everyone else doing today?
Companies are doing one of three things:
- Championing the cause: Some companies are leading the way, investigating supply chains and taking a public stand against human trafficking.
- Investigating the supply chain: Some companies are taking a more behind-the-scenes approach, investigating their supply chain to at least understand their risk, while some are filing statements to share what actions they are taking to ensure they aren’t contributing to modern slavery.
In October 2017, 42% of UK organizations reported they have mapped their supply chains to better understand risks, and this number is rising, according to a new survey by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS). CIPS also found that 40% of supply chain managers in the UK admit to not having read the government guidance on modern slavery.
As of today, 28,988 US companies have posted their statements in the Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) Report. In the UK, 28,576 companies have complied, and close to 85,000 organizations worldwide have posted a public statement, including those voluntarily complying, according to the TISC Report.
What’s my first step?
Start small, by getting to know a little more about your supply chain and by thoroughly vetting future suppliers. Knowing the truth can be scary, or it can be a relief. It will ensure your goods are made ethically, and you’ll rest well knowing your customers won’t find out something damning about your company before you do.
It’s also a good idea to join organizations fighting for the cause; it makes it easier to become part of the solution, while collaborating and learning from others. The automotive industry is a shining example. Several automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) formed an industry organization, with ethical standards that their partners throughout their supply chain must follow, under the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG). AIAG includes many OEMs, tier one, and tier two suppliers. General Motors (GM) is currently very active with AIAG, as well as the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative. This kind of open, collaborative approach among partners and competitors across industries will be necessary to win the global fight against human traffickers.
What will your company do next?
Our power at Dun & Bradstreet is limited. We help people get to the truth—that is the heart of our data. But to win the war against traffickers, action must be taken by multiple groups.
Right now, our goal is to shift the thinking within organizations, and to help companies see how they may be contributing to the bad guys. And if they are, we want to help them understand that they are the ones who have the power to stop it.
Coming soon -- Part 2: A conversation with General Motors