When the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) first learned about a new legislative initiative in California that requires companies to report on what they are doing to address human trafficking and slavery in their supply chains, we were very encouraged. In response, ICCR members sent a letter in 2010 signed by dozens of investors to the Governor of California, urging him to support the bill (SB-657). Why? Because ICCR–a coalition of faith-based and socially responsible investors–believes that transparency illuminates what is hidden, which in this case can lead to significant efforts that have a positive impact on reducing and ultimately eliminating modern-day slavery.
As shareholders, we engage a wide range of companies who depend on extensive supply chains for the products they sell. Yet, these companies are often unaware of where their products are made and under what working conditions. The passage of SB-657 is an important step towards greater transparency and accountability as companies that meet the criteria under the law are required to disclose on their public website what they are doing (or not doing) to address modern-day slavery in their supply chains.
There are important business and investment considerations for companies to minimize their risk of inadvertently contributing to trafficking and slavery, including legal and reputational issues. The availability of information under SB-657 allows investors and analysts to more fully understand whether a company is managing its human rights risks. Until recently, it has been difficult to find and compare company disclosures buried deep in obscure sections of their websites. Now, KnowTheChain, a project of Humanity United and a dozen organizations addressing modern-day slavery, has posted hundreds of SB-657 company disclosures on its website, making it easier for investors, consumers and companies to assess corporate responses. The comprehensiveness of the responses varies widely, but the act of publicly disclosing information enables a dialogue between companies and stakeholders in order to move forward. Meaningful dialogue can lead to growing awareness and significant strides towards combating slavery in global supply chains.
David M. Schilling is a Senior Program Director at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. You may contact him at: [email protected].