This week I testified before a joint committee hearing (PDF) of the California State Senate. Three senators, including Senate leader Darrel Steinberg, heard testimony from academics, campaigners, social services providers, business, and fair trade organizations on the role of state government in protecting human rights throughout global supply chains.

The agenda combined two distinct issues: human trafficking and forced labor in California, and global supply chain responsibility issues for companies and consumers in California.

The first panel included testimony from several women from the Survivors Caucus of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking who had escaped from forced labor and are now advocates for other victims. One woman had been a domestic slave, where she was not allowed to leave her captor's house or communicate with her family abroad. Another was forced to sew in a workshop for 17 hours a day, seven days a week without pay.

The second panel included several campaign organizations that work to assist victims and advocate on policy. Representatives from the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking and the Polaris Project read statements highlighting the challenges and potential policy solutions.

During the final panel, I testified that leading companies are expressing support for the full range of rights covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Core Conventions. I noted that they are also taking action based on a broad and systematic view of their human rights responsibilities.

With regard to supply chains and human rights, I recounted the evolution of codes of conduct, factory monitoring, and a recent Harvard study which found that, of 2,508 global companies, only 15 percent have an explicit labor or human rights related code of conduct for suppliers and fewer than ten percent monitor or enforce the code in some way.

In addition, I described BSR work with our members on human rights, including:

David Funkhouser from TransFair USA also presented and offered a bright light of hope in addressing responsible sourcing issues by getting consumers involved. According to David’s testimony, 30 percent of U.S. consumers are familiar with the Fair Trade logo on products, and of these, 87 percent trust the Fair Trade label.

The hearing concluded with a commitment from the lead senator to be more aggressive and to set out a broader legislative agenda. I will pay close attention to how my home state of California begins to tackle an issue that is so important to me, to BSR, and to our member companies.

  • Our vision for the next generation of supply chain leadership through BSR’s Beyond Monitoring Working Group
  • BSR’s International Labor Migration project focused on protection of the rights of migrant workers
  • HERproject, which seeks to improve health information and services available to female factory workers
  • The Better Work Buyers’ Forum, which is part of an ILO/IFC initiative to rationalize monitoring systems and raise the floor on workplace conditions through training and better enforcement of labor laws