The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report has recently been published. It is by no means a comfortable read. John Kerry, the Secretary of State for the US, states that this year’s report places particular emphasis on human trafficking in the global marketplace and that there is no time for complacency. When you read the detail in the report on the extent of the problem you don’t need an explanation of this approach.
The adoption of the Palermo Protocol is seen as being part of the efforts to combat human trafficking. The reality though is that while the fight against human trafficking intensifies, there are millions of people that continue to toil in appalling circumstances, ‘exploited for the enrichment of others’.
There is an estimate in the report by the International Labour Organisation that forced labour in the private economy reaps some $150 billion in illicit profits each year. This figure has increased from a previous estimate of $32 billion prior to 2014. Do we need to do the math? The billions that are lost in legitimate means of making money taints the purchases we make and corrupts the global economy.
The reality is that long and complex supply chains that rely on subcontractors impede traceability and, as the report points out, makes it challenging to verify the origin or nature of goods and services bought and sold. The problem of human trafficking is also not bound to certain countries and sectors. It exists in formal and informal labour markets and both lawful and illicit industries.
Traffickers are able to target vulnerable workers anywhere due to labour shortages along the entire supply chain. There is the example of the electronics sector where human trafficking is prevalent in the extractive stages (mining for metals) and in the component manufacturing stage (where separate pieces are produced or combined) and in the production stage (where the goods are assembled and packaged in a factory). The risks are more pronounced in industries that rely on low skilled or unskilled labour.
But it’s not just producers or sellers of goods that should be concerned; the services industry can also inadvertently foster the industry of human trafficking when it procures goods or relies on outsourcing to deliver its services.
Take a hotel, for instance, the sheets may be made with cotton harvested and woven by forced labour or the housekeeper may be a victim of human trafficking exploited in labour trafficking or the room itself used a brothel
Sadly there are too many instances of all these types of situations. Not to mention that most remain unknown.
So how is the private sector to respond? In the first instance look at their policies and procedures. There is an emphasis on understanding where an employee or contracted worker comes from. Addressing recruitment practices before employment begins is seen as something that companies can do. Companies should also ensure that contracts are not switched. This happens where the recruiter changes the conditions and terms of employment after a worker has invested in the recruitment process. Ensuring that company policies do not discriminate on the basis of gender can also be a means of helping to overcome harmful cultural norms in some countries.
Although there is clearly a responsibility for business to understand their human rights impacts in their business and supply chains, this is a problem that requires collaboration with industry, government, NGOs, the civil society, and the police if we are to stand a chance in tackling this issue at scale.
 Human rights policy template available https://www.ardeainternational.com/business-human-rights/