Thursday, February 28, 2008

UN Vienna Forum Part 2: Private Sector Involvement

On Tuesday, there was a special session focused on engaging the private sector in the fight against human trafficking. According to the background paper, the session was meant to focus on what efforts corporations are putting forth already and what they can do to further the solution to this problem:

Employers are increasingly aware that their supply chain is vulnerable to this crime, which can lead to unlawful practices and consumer discrimination against their brands. Some companies protect their supply chain against human trafficking by adopting codes of conduct that eliminate forced labour, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. On occasion, corporations take the additional step of supporting public awareness campaigns about the horrors of trafficking.

While these measures help, some corporations are going beyond mitigation and public awareness. These innovators are at the front lines of the battle, applying their core competencies in creative ways. Notable examples include financial institutions which focus on the flow of money, hotel chains which deny access to their facilities for sex tourism, and IT companies using technology as tools for prevention, enforcement and reintegration.

Yet compared to other issues, few corporations are actively involved in the front lines of the fight against human trafficking. Why is this so and what needs to be done to actively engage the private sector in this battle?

The session participants included Peter Brew, Director of the International Business Leader's Forum; David Arkless, Senior Vice President of Manpower; Dan Henkle, Senior Vice President, Social Responsibility at Gap; Lori Forman, Regional Director for Community Affairs at Microsoft; Rakesh Mathur, CEO of WelcomHeritage Hotels; and Minister of Labor Oscar Fernandes of India, among others.

WelcomHeritage Hotels- The Sardar Samand Palace in Pali

The first question the moderator put forth was about why the private sector has been slow to engage the issue compared to other projects. The panelists pointed out that often the media is slow to report on any of these activities, but also the companies are not campaign or lobby institutions and that organizations need to identify the real business issues connected with trafficking if they want the private sector to engage.

Then the panelists opened up into more of a conversation about current or suggested practices to combat trafficking within or by corporations:
  1. Business-to-business advocacy

  2. Corporations can regulate themselves and their practices

  3. Companies do go into refugee camps and victims' shelters to recruit people for work to give them sustainable jobs and job skills

  4. Rakesh Mathur of WelcomHeritage Hotels explained how the hotel chain has many hotels in rural areas and in an effort to promote local development, hiring local employees has become a priority

  5. One panelist said that there needs to be a values system implemented within the corporation surrounding male employees who travel including the prohibition of purchasing sex while on business-related trips. He said this is very difficult to enforce, but is possible. This reduces the risk of your employees becoming demand factors in trafficking. (From what I have understood from other sessions, traveling males are one of the main demographic populations that sex tourism and brothels advertise to).

  6. Another suggestion was to involve business schools and students in projects related to social responsibility and cooperation with NGOs. One panelist brought up a document produced by Harvard Business School that provides NGOs with some guidelines on how best to partner and approach for-profit businesses for support. I think it may be this document, but it is undoubtedly part of Harvard's Social Enterprise Initiative.

The panelists also made suggestions for how the private sector could become more engaged in the response to human trafficking:

  1. Businesses are especially interested in investing in projects that work towards root causes like poverty reduction as an area they, as part of the global economic engine, can contribute to.

  2. Companies like to donate to results-driven methods and programs such as how many kids were saved as a result of the project.

  3. Someone also mentioned that coordination between private and non-profit would be boosted by a global organizing center point for business involvement like, for example, The Global Fund and (Product) for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Two last points of interest brought up by the panelists were:
  • From a business perspective, the people who fight against human trafficking and the people who commit the crimes have serious differences in terms of money. How can $15 million dollars invested annually against trafficking fight against a $32 billion dollar-a-year industry like human trafficking?

  • Lastly, the panelists differed on whether the government should step up more regulations or businesses should self-govern on this issue. Some raised doubts that companies would go ahead and commit to ridding their supply chains and traveling businessmen from practices that fuel human trafficking.

1 comment:

  1. I saw David Arkless speak in Hong Kong In April 2006 at a conference called "Public-Private Partnerships to End Trafficking In Persons". Many of the speakers at this event also attended the event in HK.
    I wish David would address the issue of how private recruitment businesses (he runs Manpower so is well equipped to speak on the subject) contribute towards debt bondage - and trafficking - by charging heavy fees to potential migrants. It is so bad that Malaysia and South Korea have started to import workers directly through bilateral agreements in order to cut out the private industry middlemen, who are not adding efficiency, but exploitation.