Monday, October 19, 2009

Corporate Responsibility

I have written several times on this site about the role our habits as consumers can play in combating human trafficking. While I believe that as individuals we can play a powerful role in ending slavery, corporations must also become active in this movement.

In March 2009, UN Global Compact, the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) and the ILO, released the results of a survey they conducted on companies' awareness of human trafficking, awareness of how trafficking might affect their businesses, and belief in the need for them to be actively involved in anti-trafficking through their business practices. As stated in the report, Human Trafficking: Everybody's Business, "Although the connection between business and human trafficking may not be initially evident, human trafficking should be of pressing concern to companies - especially those with international operations and/or complex supply and production chains."

The bulletin of information on the results points out that multiple levels of subcontractors and labor recruitment agencies, often in multiple countries far from corporate headquarters, can make it difficult for corporations to accurately know whether slave labor has been utilized in part of the supply chain unless the company is pro-active in monitoring for trafficking. The report notes that, even as corporate activity is becoming increasingly complex and dispersed across different locations, corporations have a number of reasons for fighting trafficking through their policies and production activities. Reasons range from the altruistic - human trafficking is morally abhorrent and a human rights violation - to the more selfish and pragmatic - human trafficking violates international law and could lead to negative relationships with shareholders.

Despite the report's argument that corporations have a significant role and stake in fighting trafficking, the results of the survey suggest that most companies, though aware of human trafficking, do not believe they have such a role or do not know how to fill it. According to the survey "less than 20% of participants indicated that human trafficking posed a serious threat to the security of their global supply chains and only 31% identified being motivated to address human trafficking in order to manage risk and maintain the company’s reputation." At the same time, "Participants showed particular interest in gaining greater knowledge about international standards and showed interest in exchanging information about industry best practices."

Some corporations and organizations are leading the way in mobilizing the private sector to fight slavery. As reported by the Human Trafficking Project earlier this month, LexisNexis has taken an active role in using its services to combat trafficking by providing technology for Polaris Project. According to their website, "LexisNexis is committed to combating human trafficking by offering direct financial support and legal and technical advice to organizations working in the field to eradicate the illegal trade wherever it exists."

Last month, the HTP also reported on the Nomi Network, which is working to leverage the market to provide long-term economic stability for trafficking survivors and those at risk of trafficking. The organization, Business Travellers Against Human Trafficking, works to educate business travelers about their particular role in this issue. It also aims to mobilize them to recognize and report trafficking, and to pressure hotels, airlines, and other industries to adopt anti-trafficking policies.

Currently, UN.GIFT and the UN Global Compact are soliciting examples of companies who have developed policies and practices to combat and prevent human trafficking in their business efforts.


  1. UN agencies like the WTO, IMF, and World Bank also have a role to play by not helping create poverty, instability, and warfare that leads to trafficking.

  2. Good reminder! Last night watching tv a commercial came on (WE station ie; Women's Entertainment) that I found very disturbing. It was for a new show coming up called Mail Order Bride and it was glamorizing coming to another country via this route. One of the gals says.."I'll do whatever it takes".
    I didn't like it! I also thought it very unfortunate that a station for women would promote such a thing. To me it practically promoted traffickking!
    Thanks for the work you do...

  3. Many corporations have been forced into taking corporate responsibility. They know that it does not make good business sense to be seen as a company that is damaging the world that we live in. Huge penalties and fines also await corporations that break ethical and environmental laws.