Having worked to combat human trafficking through my roles in the U.S. government, a global NGO, and, most recently, inside a Fortune 500 company, I see momentum building on this issue in the corporate world like never before. As practitioners, we are past the stage of asking what needs to be done; we are now asking how it should be done. Answering this question will require innovation, agility, and collaboration—all strengths found in successful businesses.

My colleagues across the globe in major corporations have tremendous reach on the frontlines of the fight against modern slavery. Many of them have seen abuses and the damage done to workers firsthand, and they also have pragmatic solutions to prevent trafficking in global supply chains. Working within a company, the challenges to taking effective action to address these issues are often both internal and external.

Here are my recommendations for building an effective program to address modern slavery:

Internally

  • Seek Executive Support: In creating a program, it is critical to gain leadership buy-in from the outset, with budget and resources to take the necessary first steps. 
  • Never Waste a Crisis: If and when your firm is spotlighted for alleged human rights abuses, act quickly and decisively, and use the opportunity to further embed good human rights practices deep in your established management systems. 
  • Identify and Celebrate Your Allies: Leverage every ally you have within your company. It shouldn’t look like you are solving the problem alone—the most sustainable solutions come when actions flow from and into traditional business functions.
  • Illustrate the Issue: Be creative in explaining the human rights challenge you are facing. For example, CH2M used an infographic to show how it addressed the conditions of construction workers on engineering projects. Clear, visual communication can go a long way to helping your colleagues understand why it is time to act.
  • Embrace Transparency and Flexibility: Addressing modern slavery requires transparency and humility—characteristics that may be counterintuitive to the polished image that many corporate brands aspire to project. If your innovative pilot project goes off track or has unintended negative consequences, be candid about your experience and try another tactic.

Externally

  • Be Open to Feedback (Positive and Negative): It can be difficult for companies to be taken seriously by NGO advocates, and it can be disheartening to hear criticism of an approach you are working hard to execute. Don’t react defensively—recognize that your civil society colleagues have a job to do, as you have yours, and we can learn from each other.
  • Collaborate with Your Peers: Join or create a pre-competitive industry coalition, like Building Responsibly, which is a global initiative of the engineering and construction industries, supported by BSR and Humanity United, to promote the rights and welfare of construction workers. Learning from other sectors, Building Responsibly is modeled after the successful initiatives that the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) champions. The Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (gBCAT), which BSR supports, is another example of cross-industry collaboration on human rights.
  • Share Your Experiences: I recently had the privilege of joining a BSR Human Rights Working Group meeting. With more than 20 companies around the table, we reviewed ideas and strategies on how to prevent slavery in supply chains. It was energizing to see so many empowered and talented corporate professionals candidly discussing their plans and challenges as they strive to embed human rights principles in their management systems.  

In my work to combat modern slavery over the years, I have seen that there are always new tools to develop, new solutions to propose, and new allies to be found. So, for those of us tackling this issue, let’s work together to use our collective talent, power, and reach to make global supply chains a source of empowerment and opportunity for workers across the globe.

I’m looking forward to candid conversations about solutions in this space at the BSR Conference in Huntington Beach, California, next week, during sessions like Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery and Protecting Workers on the Move. I hope to see you there.