The role of corporates in abolishing human trafficking
It’s estimated that today there are more than 27 million people (half of them children) trapped in modern day slavery – that’s more than at any other time in history. This insidious crime has the potential to infiltrate the supply chain of any organisation anywhere in the world, yet why in the corporate world are we not more aware of its existence and not more proactive about abolishing it?
By this time tomorrow, 36,000 more people will have been trafficked, an alarming statistic in anyone’s book. Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest-growing illegal industry on the planet, and is worth more than £20 billion every year. Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race, with products such as cotton, leather goods, tobacco, rubber and cocoa still being produced using child labour or forced labour. This crime takes place all over the world – in developed, emerging and developing countries alike, and it’s happening right here in the UK. Yet too many people remain unaware that it takes place. I regularly speak to Fortune 500 companies about trafficking; where supply chains can be infiltrated by traffickers and the ways in which the global business community can collaborate to try and prevent it. Time and again I am met with the same reaction: “What human trafficking? What slavery?” But when the issue was first drawn to my attention seven years ago, I responded in much the same way. This is our world and these are our people – we all have a responsibility to protect them and fight this injustice.
There are already a number of private sector initiatives making great progress, propelling human trafficking onto the media landscape: the CNN Freedom Project is one such well-respected global initiative, the End Human Trafficking Now campaign is another. End Human Trafficking Now unites the business community in anti-slavery initiatives, and encourages a shift in mindset across organisations to operate more ethically. In 2006, it established the Athens Ethical Principles, which declare a “zero tolerance” policy on working with any organisation that benefits in any way from human trafficking. Signing these Principles confirms a public commitment that your business operation – at every point – is slavery free; they are a 21st century abolition movement. With 12,500 corporations having signed the Principles we have made progress in preventing trafficking, but the process of identifying where traffickers get an advantage never ends.
Our work is grounded in people, so we have a duty of care to not just protect those people but also to work to eliminate human trafficking from all our supply chains to protect those who may be at risk in future. At ManpowerGroup, we strive to protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged in any society in which we operate, including the victims of trafficking. But this issue was brought home to us when we discovered that human trafficking was present in every country and territory in our network. This magnified the issue intensely within our organisation and it became a catalyst for change and, importantly, action. We were the first organisation to sign the Athens Ethical Principles, an international declaration we take very seriously and one that has led us to change the way we do business. Being slavery free is at the forefront of our operations. We work with our hundreds of thousands of suppliers to ensure their operations, and by extension our own, are untainted by slavery and we now require this to be demonstrated in the tendering process.
As organisations in the business community we must harness our influence to support worthy causes. In August, we became lead sponsor of the Row For Freedom campaign – a one-off event that has seen five ordinary women risk their lives to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to raise awareness of human trafficking and much-needed funds for its victims. They have broken two world records to become the fastest female crew to make the crossing, rowing along the very route used to transport slaves in the 1800s, and are also the first female crew of five to ever row an ocean. Their extraordinary and courageous efforts are a reminder that anyone anywhere can make a difference against this issue.
We in the business community must lead from the front and strive to ensure our supply chains – and those of our suppliers – are free from slavery. In time it is my hope that products and organisations will carry a stamp declaring that they are slavery free, enabling individuals to make an informed choice about the products and services they use.
Human trafficking is present in every region in the world – it affects us all, however indirectly. No government, charity, individual or corporation can solve this problem alone but together we can fight it. This fight must begin now.
David Arkless isPresident of Global Corporate and Government Affairs at ManpowerGroup, President of the End Human Trafficking Now campaign and ambassador for the Centre for Social Justice and Advisor on its Anti-Slavery Report.
For more information about Row For Freedom, or to make a donation, please visit www.rowforfreedom.comTagged in: human trafficking, slavery
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