How You Can Root out Slavery in the Corporate Supply Chain

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 02, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You make sure contractors in your global supply chain keep private data secure. You take pains to ensure third party corruption compliance. You may even require suppliers to adopt social and environmental standards. But have you addressed slavery?

There are more slaves today than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade over 300 years ago and they could be working in your supply chain. Here's how you can root it out.

Slavery Today

It's been nearly 150 years since the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and slavery was formally abolished in the United States. Yet slavery continues, both domestically and abroad. Today, modern slavery exists in a multitude of forms, from forced labor, bonded servitude, and child slavery. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are between 21 and 36 million people enslaved in some form today.

Not only is benefiting from modern slavery an ethical and moral failing, it's also a reputational and litigation hazard. Take Costco, for example. The wholesaler often holds itself out as a socially responsible company. But this summer, it was hit with a putative class action lawsuit accusing it of selling Thai shrimp produced with slave labor, in contradiction of its public statements prohibiting human rights abuses by its suppliers. (The case is currently in limbo after it was revealed that the lead plaintiff never purchased any of the suspect shrimp.)

Know Your Low-Tier Suppliers, How to Spot Warning Signs

Slavery and forced labor often exist at the lowest tiers of the corporate supply chain, where many companies are least familiar with their suppliers, according to a report by Thomson Reuters. (Disclosure: Thomson Reuters is FindLaw's parent company.) That can leave companies at risk of unintentionally benefiting from slavery.

Companies like Thomson Reuters can offer third party risk analysis and prevention strategies, but auditing your supply chain and instituting preventative policies with low-level suppliers can also help. Hewlett Packard, for example, has banned suppliers from charging employment fees directly to their workers and prohibited suppliers from employing workers through third party brokers, two signs of possible forced labor.

There are also hi-tech solutions to the often low-tech industry of modern slavery. Many groups, from banks, to law enforcement, to nonprofits, are turning to big data to identify and address modern slavery.

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