Modern slavery is ubiquitous. From the clothes we wear and the food we eat to the cars we drive and the technology we use, many of the products that feature in our daily lives are tainted with forced labor and human trafficking.
Today, supply chains are extremely complex; the production of a simple Barbie doll typically spans over a hundred countries. The length and complexity of supply chains can increase the risk of modern slavery. When a parent company is far removed from its different levels of suppliers, transparency and accountability often waver.
But the complexity of supply chains is not an excuse for companies to profit from exploitation: there is no excuse. Corporations of all sizes must identify and address modern slavery and environmental damage occurring across their supply chains.
To ensure that corporations assume these responsibilities, we need a concerted effort from governments to pass legislation to hold them accountable. Consumers too have a role to play in pushing companies to do better.
What should companies be doing?
Conducting adequate human rights and environmental due diligence can be a challenge for businesses, especially small companies with limited resources. However, due diligence is critical to ensure they are not profiting from the suffering of workers and communities.
There are key best practices that all businesses should adopt. For example, in an opinion piece for the Conversation, Stuart Milligan and Nancy Southin write:
First, organizations can create and manage supplier contracts in a way that ensures suppliers recognize and adhere to international labour laws and modern slavery legislation. Second, large private and public sector organizations can work with small-to-medium enterprises to raise awareness of the risk factors associated with modern slavery. […] Additionally, organizations can ask their suppliers to report on the actions they are taking to remove modern slavery from their supply chains.
The role of governments
There is a growing consensus that we need governments to pass laws to make it compulsory for businesses to conduct adequate human rights and environmental due diligence. In recent years, many countries around the world have begun debating or even passed laws that seek to serve this purpose to some extent, including Germany, France, and Norway.
The European Union is currently negotiating a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive which could ensure companies operating in the E.U. conduct adequate due diligence.
Together with the Justice is Everybody’s Business coalition, Freedom United is calling on the E.U. to ensure the final directive makes it possible to hold all companies responsible for harms across their entire value chains. Join us in calling for a strong law!
What can consumers do?
As consumers, we can also play our part in pushing for companies to conduct adequate due diligence and remediate any harm caused.
Recent research suggests that consumer behavior is a particularly powerful way to reduce modern slavery. And as Southin and Milligan say, “the strongest motivation for an organization to take meaningful action to address modern slavery in their supply chains is consumer pressure.”
As voters, we can also be calling on our governments to pass strong laws to hold companies accountable. Join us today to call for a world where modern slavery is no longer allowed to thrive!