Meaningful Strides, Big and Small, in Confronting Trafficking and Slavery

Jun 19th 2015

The challenge to identify, address and eliminate modern slavery and trafficking is incredibly daunting.  Yet, it is hopeful, indeed inspiring, to see institutions and individuals who are making a difference.  The Expert Meeting on Eradicating Contemporary Forms of Slavery from Supply Chains in Geneva in early April brought together a small group of representatives from international institutions, civil society, trade unions, companies and academics that are grappling with tough strategic choices while thoughtfully attacking root causes of slavery as well as addressing those victimized by criminal recruitment networks. Here is the concept note, agenda and participant list.

David Schilling with Urmila Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

The group shared a day of dialogue with Urmila Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery including its causes and consequences, providing perspectives on the challenges of confronting slavery in global supply chains.  Ms. Bhoola, a South African lawyer, brings a keen grasp of the issues, an openness to learn and a vibrant leadership to her assignment.  Three things stood out for me as I participated in the conversation.

First, the International Labor Organization’s Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labour is providing tremendous leadership in the struggle to identify and confront slavery.  The importance of the June 2014 adoption of the Protocol and Recommendation that updates the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 is immense.  It lays out provisions for the prevention, protection, remedies, including eliminating the payment of fees by workers as an effective measure to address trafficking in persons.  As countries adopt the Protocol, there is the potential to build momentum to confront forced labour and slavery, through government enforcement as well as multi-stakeholder initiatives and corporate action.  . 

The Special Action Program has launched a Fair Recruitment Initiative that will increase our knowledge of recruitment practices, including business case studies, monitoring of recruitment costs and sharing responsible models for matching employers and job-seekers.  In addition the ILO is launching a data collection project to get good data on the prevalence of forced labor and slavery in specific sectors and commodities.

Second, President Obama’s Executive Order Strengthening Protections against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts is now in place since the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) issued its requirements.  This has huge implications for the 350,00 companies who have government contracts and sets the bar much higher and deeper by requiring compliance plans for extended supply chains. All companies with contracts will need to make sure that a) workers in their supply chains are not paying fees to obtain employment; b) there is no confiscation of personal papers/passports, and c) that migrant workers are provided written contracts and return transportation at the conclusion of employment.  Contractors with supplies and/or services outside of the U.S. in excess of $500,000 must develop a compliance plan and submit a certification on an annual basis stating that a compliance plan has been implemented.  The Executive Order combined with the new Protocol on Forced Labour helps strengthen the scrutiny in supply chains and forces companies to take action on human rights abuses.

Third, anti-trafficking actions at the community level are critical to the reduction and elimination of slavery.  The group heard inspiring examples of effective community action: GoodWeave in Nepal and India removing children from hand-knotted carpet looms and into schools; the General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana, organizing whole communities to combat child and forced labor in the cocoa and fishing sector; Project Issara of Anti-Slavery International mapping and addressing slavery in Thai supply chains and the groups in Brazil as a part of the National Pact to Eradicate Slave Labor combatting forced labor and slavery along with the government.

With action focused at the international level, the national level and at the corporate as well as local community level, we have a chance to make a difference in the long struggle to eliminate slavery.