Eliminating Forced Labour from Supply Chains: Comparing Brazil and the U.S.

Thursday, 12 November 2015 09:09 GMT

In this 2012 illustration photo a woman works in a workshop in London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

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Both countries have encountered obstacles in attempting to eliminate forced labour from supply chains, but both contexts provide valuable lessons

The existence of forced labour in a company's supply chain is the newest frontier in the global effort to combat forced labour, human trafficking and exploitation. Supply chains are systems of organisations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer. Supply chains transform natural resources, raw materials, and components into a finished product that is delivered to the end customer.

Forced labour in supply chains is inextricably linked to global commerce. Increasingly, companies whose supply chains are found to have produced, sourced, and sold products that utilise forced labour are facing international pressure to clean up their supply chains, such as the recent Costco lawsuit alleging slavery in shrimp product supply chains. Many companies have forced labour in their supply chains but they may not even know it or how it manifests itself. For example, the exploitation occurring in a company’s supply chain could be child labour or could be the use of unscrupulous foreign labour recruiters. The pervasiveness of forced labour in a company’s supply chain has been illustrated recently by companies such as Patagonia, who have made diligent efforts to eliminate exploitation from its supply chain but still have seen elements of their supply chain compromised.

While companies are starting to engage on this issue, a few governments have emerged as leaders on tackling the issue of supply chain transparency, among them Brazil and the United States. Both countries have encountered obstacles in attempting to eliminate forced labour from supply chains, but both contexts provide valuable lessons.

Brazil

Brazil has engaged in a number of governmental, civil society, and private sector initiatives aimed at eradicating slavery. From an enforcement perspective, the Brazilian government put mobile inspection groups on the ground to investigate forced labour. Relating to policy, the Ministry of Labour and Employment enacted the lista suja or “dirty list.”Enacted in 2004, the dirty list is a register of employers caught exploiting workers under abusive and coercive conditions. Between 2004 and 2014 the list included 300 companies. The list was successful because of the initial buy-in that it received from the business community. As a result, a number of banks, and evenother private businesses,have resolved over the years not to do business with companies on the dirty list.

While there is concern about the future of the dirty list to regulate slavery and forced labour in Brazil, it has provided an international model for governments on supply chain transparency issues.

United States

The American approach has been more focused on legislation. The legislation has come in the form of either specific product transparency legislation, such as §1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires certain companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals that may help to finance conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo region, or in the form of supply chain transparency legislation such as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSCA) of 2010. The CTSCA requires retail or manufacture companies with annual gross receipts of USD100 million to disclose their efforts to eradicate forced labour in direct supply chains. The CTSCA represents a positive state level model to address supply chain transparency and combat forced labour but only addresses conduct related to California.

More recently, in July 2015, H.R. 3226 Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015 was introduced in the House of Representatives. It requires companies with annual worldwide global receipts greater than USD100 million to report to the Securities Exchange Commission any measures taken to identify and address conditions of forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and child labour within supply chains. The increased congressional interest in supply chain transparency legislation illustrates a hopeful forward path.

Government responses to eliminating forced labour from supply chains in both Brazil and the United States are welcome attempts to address what is not a new, but certainly a newly recognized, humanitarian issue affecting global business and human rights.

A longer version of this article first appeared in The Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue 5

Ashley Feasley is the Director of Advocacy at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Ashley previously worked at ECPAT International and currently consults for Human Trafficking Search. Twitter: @ashleyfeasley