How Businesses and Governments Can Address Forced Labor in Supply Chains

The government and the business community must work together to detect and address forced labor in global supply chains. Here's what they can do now.

Air Date: July 30, 2021

Moderator: Glenn Spencer, Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Jaco Booyens, President and CEO, After Eden Pictures, Martha Newton, Deputy Director General for Policy, International Labour Organization, Dr. Kari Johnstone, Acting Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State, Josh Kagan, Acting Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Labor, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Eric Choy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

One of the biggest human rights issues facing the entire world is human trafficking. This global problem potentially affects millions of people each year who are illegally brought into forced labor and sexual exploitation against their will. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime. It estimates 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking.

The United States has been taking measures against human trafficking, but the federal government cannot end this humanitarian crisis alone. To address the scope and depth of this problem, the government must partner with the business community to eliminate forced labor within their supply chains.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spoke with business insiders and government officials to learn more about the role people can play in detecting and eliminating forced labor. Here are three insights from those conversations.

Supply Chain Transparency Is Needed to Solve This Issue

One of the reasons forced labor can be so hard to detect is the lack of supply chain transparency between businesses. When a business exports its supply chain needs to a third party, it may not be aware of that company's hiring or business practices. Business leaders need to know how their supply chains are being staffed and enforce them to high ethical standards. Not only will this eradicate forced labor, but it also can help a business run more efficiently.

“[Businesses need to be] on top of their supply chain [and] have a good sense of the quality of things that are being produced in their supply chain,” said Josh Kagan, acting assistant U.S. trade representative for Labor for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “That cuts across so many different areas. … We should be looking downstream [and] upstream, thinking about ways to address forced labor and supply chains, but we should also be using some of the same tools that are being used for quality control across the supply chain to tackle forced labor.”

The Government and the Private Sector Must Work Together

The federal government cannot stop human trafficking and forced labor alone. With so many human rights violations embedded within businesses, the private sector needs to partner with the federal government to solve these problems. Government agencies and businesses need to share their resources, such as data and technology, and work together to eradicate human trafficking.

“Business brings innovative tools and technology and practices that provide a lot of information on the situation in their sector,” said Martha Newton, deputy director-general for policy for the International Labour Organization. “Vice versa, government agencies gather information that's critical for businesses and their supply chains. Sharing and exchanging information that [is] non-competitive in nature is really key.”

Governments and Corporations Need to Look Out for Sex Trafficking

When businesses and the government are trying to create solutions to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking, they must also be aware of sex trafficking. In most cases, forced labor and sex trafficking are not mutually exclusive. The same bad actors that bring forced laborers and migrant workers into the supply chains are the same ones who are sex trafficking as well. This should provide an extra layer of urgency for businesses to detect forced labor within their own corporation.

“When we think of labor trafficking or supply chain management or critical sourcing, we have to think [of] sexual exploitation at the same time right now,” Jaco Booyens, president and CEO of After Eden Pictures.