Slavery, Supply Chains and SRI in the Rockies

Nov 17th 2015

Over 500 investors gathered in Colorado Springs on November 3-5, 2015 for the 26th annual SRI conference on sustainable, responsible and impact Investing hosted by First Affirmative Financial Network. Amid the discussions of new financial products and ESG indicators, participants had a chance to learn about the emerging topics in the fields of SRI and corporate engagement. This is where the ethical recruitment and modern day slavery discussion took central stage.

Together with my fellow panelists, Cimarron Nix of HP, Michael Vaudreuil of Verité and moderator Adam Kanzer, of Domini Social investments, the panel, “Eradicating Modern Day Slavery in Global Supply Chains”, put a human face on these egregious human rights violations. Citing ICCR’s No Fees Initiative’s 2015 report “Recruited into Slavery”, the panelists outlined the drivers of unethical recruitment practices, the challenges to systemic change, and new investor tools from the civil society, corporate and auditing perspective to advance corporate dialogue and create policies leading to greater transparency, monitoring and reporting .

ICCR Associate Program Director Valentina Gurney

While ICCR members have been working on the issue of Ethical Recruitment through the frame of the No Fees Initiative for almost two years, ICCR was thrilled to present this topic for broader discussion with new investor audiences. In educating more investors about the issues and our No Fees work, we hope to expand our leverage and influence with companies across more sectors. There is not a single multi-national company in the world that isn’t at risk for unethical recruitment practices through its employment of migrant workers directly or indirectly through its suppliers. These workers, in turn, frequently have to pay high recruitment fees in order to get the job, which often puts them at risk for bonded labor and potentially human trafficking and other human rights abuses. Yet, at present, very few companies have an in-depth understanding of risks and indicators or forward facing policies in place to specifically target some of the practices, commonly occurring in supply chains, which may lead to bonded labor and human trafficking.

As the panelists highlighted, one of the challenges we face in expanding the program is the lack of sector-wide coalitions collaborating to create systemic change. As it stands now, the few progressive companies tackling this complex international issue tend to do so independently when industry engagement and collective initiatives would be much more effective. These coalitions can exert more leverage on governments and suppliers while strengthening and harmonizing standards and new requirements. Members of the audience also correctly pointed to climate change as a driver of slavery risks in global supply chains due to climate displacement and new patterns of labor migration, further underscoring the urgency of tackling both of these issues.

The conference provided a great opportunity to reinforce the case for stronger policy on ethical recruitment centered on the three pillars of 1. Recruitment fee reimbursement 2. Enforcement of written contracts between workers and employers,and 3. Prohibition on retention of passports or other identity documents. At the same time, our discussions helped us align our strategies for further investor and corporate engagements and to create a platform for the sharing of the current best practices with a broader investor audience.

By Valentina Gurney,
ICCR Program Associate
No Fees Initiative