January 11, 2016 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States, and in 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In his proclamation, he called on assistance of not only traditional players, including national and community organizations and faith-based groups, but also called for businesses to recognize their role in ending human trafficking – a first since the crime of human trafficking was defined in the US in 2000.
It is in a business’ interest to understand where human labor trafficking may exist within its supply chain – often through activities engaged in by suppliers, contractors, or subcontractors who face fewer regulations in their countries of operation. The risk of human trafficking is often greatest for vulnerable, low-income groups performing unskilled labor, such as children who work on cotton farms or in an under-regulated mine or factory.
Presently, the Department of Labor provides a List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor to raise awareness of where supply chain vulnerabilities exist for businesses. But, it also serves as a tool for consumers who want to be more aware of the origins of their purchases. The State Department also issued the latest 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report which details where governments throughout the world stand so far as their efforts toward prosecution, protection, and prevention of human trafficking and forced labor. The two efforts above, however, do little to address the role that large businesses play in human trafficking.
Prior to the President’s proclamation, Representative Carolyn Maloney (NY), accompanied by eight co-sponsors, introduced the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act, which – after gaining no traction in 2011 – was subsequently introduced in 2014 and again in 2015 as the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015. The long-proposed legislation goes beyond the Dodd-Frank Act’s required disclosure of the use of four specific conflict minerals through reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). A subsequent bill – also called the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015 – was later introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT).
In their current form, the bills would amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and require businesses with over $100 million in global gross receipts to publically disclose measures taken to identify and address conditions of forced labor, slavery, human trafficking, and the worst forms of child labor within its supply chains. At this time, however, the bills are under review by the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. These bills are important because when businesses produce or sell products with ignorance of human trafficking’s existence in its supply chain, it equates to a promotion and sanctioning of the crime. Furthermore, disclosure of business practices to identify and prevent trafficking will allow consumers to make more informed decisions about what they purchase.
To be a part of the solution to preventing human trafficking, contact your U.S. Senator or House Representative and urge them to pass the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act to encourage more businesses to help prevent human trafficking from being involved goods produced and sold by American companies.