A shocking report highlights modern slavery and trafficking within 25 diverse industries, showing there must be no let-up in the scrutiny of supply chains.
If companies needed reminding about the expansive reach of modern slavery and human trafficking, then a hard-hitting report by human rights group Polaris has provided it.
Polaris analyzed 32,208 reports of human trafficking, and 10,085 reports of labor exploitation submitted through its victim hotlines in the United States between 2007 and 2016.
They then divided those reports into 25 different industries and reviewed the distinct business model traffickers use to take advantage of victims within each one.
Their goal was to profile traffickers and their victims, while drawing attention to the breadth of a problem that historically many viewed as primarily related to sex trafficking.
It also attempted to quantify a crime that is easily hidden within legitimate businesses and industries such as construction, hotels & hospitality and forestry & logging.
The results and Polaris’ ability to demonstrate the existence of some form of human trafficking in 25 diverse industries proves that slavery is far from being classified as a remnant of the past.
While traffickers are not overtly putting victims in chains and selling them as chattel, the result is much the same.
Modern Slavery Act
According to the United Nations, modern slavery and trafficking is now the second-largest criminal industry in the world, with the ILO estimating annual profits from forced labor at US$150 billion.
Globalization, however, has increased awareness regarding human rights issues, in turn spurring governments and corporations to increase transparency.
The UK has taken the lead in the fight against human trafficking with its implementation of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) in 2015.
Some find proof of its impact in recent statistics from the UK’s National Crime Agency showing that the number of potential victims of slavery and human trafficking in the UK has more than doubled in the past three years.
While this surge may appear alarming, it more likely reflects a better understanding of what constitutes human trafficking and modern slavery and the resources available to victims since the enactment of the MSA.
One of the ways the MSA aims to protect victims is by tackling the forced labor and slavery that often flourishes in corporate supply chains.
The law’s transparency provisions require businesses to publish an annual statement regarding the steps they have taken to identify slavery in their business operations.
This puts pressure on companies to take a closer look at what is going on in what may be long, complex supply chains where slavery exists in operations one step removed from more “visible” parts of a company’s supply chain.
Businesses that fail to publish this statement face court injunctions and an unlimited fine.
Perhaps more influential in the fight against human trafficking, however, is the financial and reputational damage that can accompany a public association with — or an indifference to — such human rights violations.
With so much at stake, companies must be prepared to comply not only with relevant laws and regulations, but with their customers’ attitudes and preferences.