The role of business in preventing modern-day slavery

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. Millions of people are victimized throughout the world—including the United States—and they can be found in restaurants, factories, fisheries, brothels, farms and homes. According to the state of California, trafficking represents a $32 billion industry, vying against drugs and illegal arms sales as the top international crime. International laws and rules to address human trafficking have been in place for decades, but new efforts are being made around the world to confront this terrible issue.

In the United States, laws and regulations have been passed or drafted that increase the requirements of businesses to address human trafficking in their operations and their supply chain. One example is California's Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 (SB 657), which seeks to increase manufacturer and retailer transparency regarding their efforts, to address the issues of slavery and human trafficking. Recently, Executive Order 13627 on “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts (2012)” was signed. This led to the draft Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation (DFAR), which propose requirements on all federal contracts, with further requirements on contracts in excess of $500,000 or $1 million outside the United States.

Businesses should address the risks of human trafficking regardless of legal enforcement. For many companies, the greater risks are likely to be in the supply chain. A supply chain responsibility program should drive efforts to ensure and verify there is no bonded, child, forced, indentured or involuntary prison labor in the development and manufacturing of products and services. Hewlett-Packard (HP) has worked with its industry to integrate standards into the industry's code of conduct and supply chain-auditing protocols. Specific efforts include on-site auditing, specialized standards and assessments as well as supplier training and capability building.

Although HP has been working on advancing supply chain responsibility for many years, our industry is characterized by a shifting worker base that includes categories of workers who are at high risk for mistreatment. These include migrants, students, temporary workers and women. As an example, through HP's auditing and review processes, we noticed a significant increase in the use of student workers by electronics company suppliers. We also learned that some students were afraid to leave work for fear of not graduating from their vocational school, even though their internship was not always related to their studies. In response, HP developed leading student worker guidance for supplier facilities in China, which have since been adopted by our industry. Critical to these guidelines are a reinforcement that all work must be voluntary and that young workers engaging in a vocational internship should pursue work that is consistent with their field of study.

As visibility to the scale of human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the world continues to increase, and governments pursue measures to drive related awareness and due diligence, companies will need to continue to adapt their business practices, governance and supply chain management to ensure that they are not connected to such crimes. In the near future, we expect to see further requirements from governments and expectations from NGOs for supply chain transparency as well as increased reporting and auditing of company practices. The trafficking of persons is not acceptable in any industry, in any part of the world. While not the only vehicle for change, businesses, particularly when acting together with shared purpose, have a role to play in its successful prevention and remediation.

Ashley Watson

Ashley Watson is senior vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer at Hewlett-Packard Company.

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