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Fight Slavery Now! Message Board › Human Trafficking and Corporate Supply Chains

Human Trafficking and Corporate Supply Chains

avra c.
divermate
New York, NY
Post #: 2,201
Good article with great links by tireless advocate Ivy Suriyopas:

Human Trafficking and Corporate Supply Chains
by: Ivy O. Suriyopas

People are more concerned about trafficking in persons than ever. However, addressing this human rights abuse means we all need to consume goods ethically by learning more about the supply chain of products we purchase. Recent events surrounding Wal-Mart, especially regarding the tragic garment factory fire that killed more than 100 workers in Bangladesh and the labor demonstrations by American retail workers demanding livable wages this past Thanksgiving, raise serious concerns about the extent to which businesses will cut costs to maximize profits, even at the expense of their own workers. Serious allegations and criminal investigations of companies include complaints ranging from employment violations to human trafficking and child labor. Short of criminal prosecution, what can be done to send the message to companies that such shortcuts are unacceptable? Boycotts are an oft-cited tactic, but how do we know whom to boycott and whom to support in the alternative? How effective are boycotts as a form of consumer activism? Can demanding better behavior from businesses actually improve practices within the corporate supply chain?

There are various government and nonprofit resources that evaluate products and businesses based on a variety of factors, including the treatment of workers along the company’s supply chain. They inform consumers of a company’s or industry’s practices to help them decide which brands or businesses are worth supporting. The Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons supports Slaveryfootprint.org­, which tries to calculate the number of forced laborers consumers use for the products and services they purchase to show their overall slavery footprint (a so-called twist on the carbon footprint). The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Bureau of International Labor Affairs documents overseas products that are produced by forced labor and child labor. The DOL has a number of mobile applications, including Eat Shop Sleep, which documents restaurants, hotels, and retailers that have had labor, safety, and health violations. Ethical Consumer and Anti-Slavery International are United Kingdom-based nonprofits that provide resources for positive buying as well as active consumer boycotts and information on products generated by forced labor, respectively. GoodGuide evaluates and grades various products based on their social, health, and environmental impacts, while Free2Work grades goods based exclusively on whether forced labor or child labor was used in their production. Both have mobile applications that can scan a product’s barcode to get a grade on a 1-to-10 scale or a letter grade, respectively. There is also a guide that rates restaurants on how they pay restaurant workers, provide opportunities for advancement, or have pending lawsuits against them for discrimination or wage theft. Still, many consumers merely check product labels for signs that they are union-made or meet fair-trade standards.

Other issues that cause consumers to carefully choose the products they purchase may actually conflict with the human rights concerns that emphasize ethical treatment of workers along the supply chain. Many people, for instance, are willing to pay the higher prices associated with the growing local food movement, which emphasizes raising organic produce and treating animals better, but may not be willing to do so to offset increased costs in labor. In contrast, consummate food activist Michael Pollan has recognized how interconnected the plight of workers are to the food movement and has joined the campaign to end slavery for tomato workers. The plentiful products at the consumer’s disposal show that this does not need to be a zero-sum game. There are enough choices for consumers to purchase goods that meet their health, environmental, political, and societal values.

Paying higher prices for goods produced by workers who are paid better wages and work under safer conditions is a privilege that many consumers will not be able to afford. Additionally, given the number of reasons consumers have for buying or not buying certain products, boycotts can be extremely narrow and overly simplistic. Ethical consumerism is just one form of consumer activism. An alternative to boycotts is to encourage poor-performing companies and industries to improve their treatment of employees and increase oversight within their supply chains. Campaigns like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, for example, focused on organizing grocery stores, restaurants, and farms into supporting an increase in pay for tomato farm workers. Furthermore, in some lawsuits or even criminal prosecutions, parties may reach settlement agreements or plea bargains that include promises by companies to improve their treatment of workers. Other tactics include organizing interest groups around a particular issue area, such as human trafficking of farm workers and migrant laborers, sweatshop labor, or child labor; reporting to law enforcement authorities about possible criminal wrongdoing; advocating for improved laws or enforcement of laws at the local, state, or federal levels; or writing blogs or op-eds about a particular issue.

Consider the message you are sending the next time you buy something at Wal-Mart or other companies. Are you okay with the fact that Wal-Mart pays its workers so little that they qualify food stamps? How will you hold it accountable for how it allows manufacturers to treat their factory workers so poorly that their very safety is endangered? What will you do to end demand for cheap products at the cost of workers’ lives and well-being?

BIO: Ivy O. Suriyopas is the Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).
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