Address root causes of forced labour to clean up supply chains: report

by Zoe Tabary | zoetabary | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 00:01 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A victim of forced labor speaks during a Reuters interview in a village at Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

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Millions spent each year to prevent forced labour amount to little more than a "band-aid", say experts

By Zoe Tabary

LONDON, Jan 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts by governments and corporations to tackle forced labour in global supply chains are falling short as they ignore deeper problems like poverty and poor sourcing practices by businesses, a report said on Wednesday.

Millions spent each year to prevent forced labour amount to little more than a "band-aid" as the efforts fail to address root causes of exploitation, said the report by Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, an organisation that tackles forced labour issues, and the University of Sheffield.

"The traditional perception of forced labour is that of a bad guy forcing you to provide work or a service," said Neil Howard, a research fellow at the University of Antwerp and one of the report authors.

"But very often people have agreed to work in exploitative conditions, because extreme poverty and vulnerability leave them no choice," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Stronger safety nets like a universal basic income can make people less vulnerable to exploitation, the report said.

Worldwide, about 24.9 million people were estimated to be trapped in forced labour in 2016, working in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats, and as domestic or sex workers.

An annual index published in September found that companies were making more robust efforts to ensure their supply chains were clean of trafficking and forced labor – but with room for improvement.

Much of forced labour in supply chains has to do with poor sourcing practices and a concentration of power in companies, said Howard.

"Those at the top of large corporates set the working conditions for everyone else: if they put heavy cost and time pressures on their suppliers, then suppliers have to make their ends meet, and may exploit their own workers," he said.

Businesses should set fairer wages for their employees and suppliers to dissuade forced labour, he added.

Alex Trautrims, head of the Rights Lab, a group of experts working on modern slavery, said companies need to have better auditing to root out forced labour in their supply chains.

"Modern global supply chains can often be complex, fragmented and anonymised - making it difficult for businesses to identify slavery in the more remote parts of their supply chains," he said in emailed comments.

A spokeswoman for Mars Inc, a candy manufacturer giant, said in emailed comments that "forced labour in any of its forms has no place in global supply chains".

The company is working with Verité, an international labour rights group, to tackle forced labour, she added.

French cosmetics giant L'Oreal SA says on its website that it carries out regular audits to monitor human rights in its supply chain, and "engages with our suppliers to ensure remedy for people who experienced harm". (Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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