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Ethical Sourcing

Human Trafficking in the Global Supply Chain

Businesses Have a Critical Role to Play in Combating Forced Labor

Despite near-universal condemnation of slavery worldwide, human trafficking and forced labor are still very much a part of the global economy. Today’s supply chains span continents and oceans, providing ample opportunity for human traffickers to operate in the shadows.

The United Nations’ landmark “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children” was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000. But combating labor trafficking isn’t just a job for governments.

Businesses must make every effort to cut bad actors out of their supply chains. Respect for human rights demands it, and failing to do so can tarnish a company’s reputation, even when that company is not aware of the violations.

Human Trafficking Statistics

Many people don’t realize that forced labor is still a major human rights issue. According to the International Labour Organization, as of 2016:

  • Sixteen million people were in forced labor for private-sector companies.
  • Eighteen percent of those being forced to work in factories, fields, or as domestic servants were children.
  • Industries where forced labor was most prevalent were, in declining order, domestic work, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.

How Forced Labor Enters the Supply Chain

The FBI believes human trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity in the world. No reputable business wants to be associated with labor exploitation. How then do human trafficking rings continue to profit from their malevolent trade? Like many criminal enterprises, these networks seek to operate outside the spotlight.

A common scenario involves intermediary businesses that obfuscate the use of forced labor. A reputable company contracts with a supplier who then subcontracts with a manufacturer that exploits workers. In cases like this, the buyer has no idea that they’re benefitting from forced labor.

Many victims of labor exploitation are poor and undereducated. They’re targeted by human traffickers and recruiters who make false promises. Threats or violence are often used to ensure victims cooperate. Law enforcement is tasked with breaking up human trafficking operations, but businesses can remove financial incentives by refusing to work with suspect vendors.

Using Data to Combat Human Trafficking

In the fight against labor trafficking, knowledge is power. Businesses should demand transparency in supplier and subcontractor operations in order to understand who is working on their behalf.

The ever-expanding amount of commercially available business information is a valuable ally in the battle against human trafficking. Data on individual companies and economies is used to assess the risk that forced labor has entered a supply chain. Advanced analytics programs can help risk managers spot worrying trends and indicators, pulling back the curtain on labor exploitation.

Dun & Bradstreet’s Human Trafficking Risk Index is one such application, combining data from the US government with our own commercial records. D&B is proud to join the fight against modern-day slavery.

The United States government, the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations devote significant time and resources to combating forced labor. Businesses can also learn more about human trafficking from the US Department of Justice and the U.N.’s Human Trafficking Knowledge Portal.

What Else Can Businesses Do to Prevent Labor Exploitation?

Many multinational corporations send auditors to review supplier operations on-site. These professionals are trained to spot the signs of labor exploitation. While this approach may not be feasible for all businesses, there are proactive steps companies can take to stop forced labor.

  1. Avoid doing business with suppliers that have run afoul of human trafficking and labor exploitation laws. Criminals are motivated by profit, and a loss of customers removes their financial incentive.
  2. Report your suspicions about forced labor. If you have evidence that any of your suppliers are participating in labor exploitation, reach out to local or federal authorities.
  3. Hire victims of human trafficking. Many people who find themselves working under duress end up in such situations due to limited employment opportunities. A good job at a reputable company provides that person with financial security and removes them from the underground economy.

While ridding the world of human trafficking may seem like an insurmountable task, criminal rings have an Achilles heel: informed business owners dedicated to building ethical supply chains.

Dun & Bradstreet publishes a suite of supply chain management software intended to reduce risk.

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