It’s estimated that 80 percent of global trafficking victims are women, and the vast majority are ensnared in sexual exploitation through the promise of legitimate jobs, marriage, “a way out,” or the lure of love from a male figure. Women and girls often become trapped in their situations through the threat (or reality) of violence, physical bondage, psychological control, and drug addiction. Around the world, poverty and illiteracy are some of the most common factors among female victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Companies that have household names face significant brand risks if their products, services, or supply chains are associated with trafficking. In fact, just last week, clothing retailer Zara was accused of using slave labor in its Brazilian supply chain. Hospitality and airline companies also face reputational risks if traffickers use their property or services to facilitate their illegal activities. For other industries such as the information and communications technology sector, there are concerns that traffickers may use internet-based advertisements for legitimate-sounding jobs to lure their victims. Traffickers often depend on the web to directly conduct their criminal activities.
Given the enormous complexity of global supply chains these days, companies have less oversight and knowledge about the working conditions in the production of their goods and services. With so many layers of contractors, subcontractors, recruiters, and labor brokers, companies are facing greater risks that trafficking could be happening without their knowledge, thus creating notable challenges to their accountability.
With greater focus on human trafficking given initiatives like the recent California SB 657 legislative action on trafficking, companies should be proactive in managing these risks to demonstrate to customers, employees, and communities that they are as committed to this issue as they are to other corporate responsibility goals, and that they are complying with international human rights standards.
One of the first steps companies can take to combat human trafficking is to adopt robust policies that include respect for human rights, labor standards, and anti-corruption measures, and are in line with international standards like the UN Global Compact. The Luxor Implementation Guidelines can help companies implement these policies. Companies also need to train their employees to recognize signs of trafficking using resources such those developed by Airline Ambassadors and the Polaris Project. Companies should also engage with their suppliers and hold them accountable to their human rights policies through the procurement process and contracts.
Companies also need to find ways to make it more difficult for traffickers to use their properties, products, and services. And they need to raise awareness of the issue—both internally and externally with partners, consumers, customers, and other stakeholders—in ways that are specific to their industries and the risks they face.
Lastly, to address the root causes of trafficking in local communities and in supply chains, companies can develop innovative public-private partnerships with key stakeholders like the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking and UN.GIFT. Partnerships can also target issues such as fair, safe, and legal working conditions as well as manipulative labor brokers that often exploit migrant workers.
To learn more about this topic, listen to BSR’s recent webinars on the U.S. State Department’s annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” and how to prepare for the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act.
How is your company thinking about human trafficking and the exploitation of women and girls in the context of its human rights policy? What innovative partnerships would you like to see?