In June 2010, Kroger CEO David Dillon listened to a presentation at a shareholder meeting that no CEO wants to hear. According to the shareholder, “Sunripe,” a label of Pacific Tomato Growers and a supplier to Kroger has been known to use enslaved workers and has been accused of unjust working conditions. The shareholder argued that Kroger was implicated in this injustice because of its continued relationship with Pacific Tomato Growers. Dillon responded by referring to Kroger’s code of conduct, which explicitly prohibits use of forced labor, and he said that Kroger would work with growers on this issue.1 Perhaps because of Kroger’s efforts, Pacific Tomato Growers signed an agreement in October 2010 that set new standards for responsibility and accountability.2
While the problem of forced labor (or slavery) has existed throughout history, globalization has created new avenues for perpetrators to move and exploit vulnerable persons. The trafficking of human persons has actually been ranked as the second-most lucrative organized crime, up there with drug and arms trafficking. Many companies unknowingly profit from forced labor, often because the crime is hidden and difficult to detect. In this blog post, I will define “human trafficking” and provide a process for companies to avoid profiting from this devastating crime.
According to the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, trafficking in persons involves “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person…often over international borders but also frequently within the boundaries of a single country, for the purpose of exploitation.”3 The exploitation can include prostitution of others, forced labor, slavery, or servitude. For an example, watch this excellent NY Times video by Nicholas Kristoff: Video Link.
A variety of businesses can unknowingly profit from this crime, especially those involved in tourism, lodging, transportation, and agriculture. Businesses can also be implicated through the actions of their suppliers, sub-contractors, labor brokers, or employment agencies. Not only is trafficking an ethical and legal breach, a link with trafficked persons can permanently scar the reputation of a company. For this reason, companies must establish a process to prevent being touched by this devastating crime.4
1. Risk Assessment and Policy
A. Perform a risk or impact assessment on human trafficking. For example, if you use an employment agency to find workers for overseas factories, does that agency have policies and practices in place to prevent the employment of trafficked persons?
B. Develop a policy that prohibits human trafficking within company operations, business partners, supply chain, and employment agencies. Agreements and contracts should include this policy.
Train relevant managers and personnel on human trafficking. For example, hotels should train customer service representatives to notice suspicious persons (such as an older man with numerous young women) and to respond appropriately by alerting management or police.
3. Monitoring and Measuring Impact
Establish measures to monitor company operations, suppliers, subcontractors, and employment agencies.
4. Taking Corrective Action
Spell out the process for taking corrective action. For example, when Kroger was informed that their tomato supplier may be using forced labor practices, they chose to work directly with the supplier.
5. Communications and Reporting
Report to employees, business partner, and other stakeholders on the performance and progress of anti-trafficking efforts.
3“Human Trafficking and Business,” published by UNGIFT in 2010. A more thorough definition of human trafficking is provided in the UN Palermo Protocol: “Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” From Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crim (General Assembly Resolution 55/25, Annex II.
4This process is taken from the UNGIFT document, “Human Trafficking and Business.” Other good resources include: ILO/UN.GIFT “Combating forced labour: A handbook for employers and business, 2008 and UN Global Compact et al, A Human Rights Management Framework, 2010.