Regulations like the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act and the UK Modern Slavery Act mean that compliance officers around the world are now in a position to help wipe out the global disgrace that is modern slavery. The United Nations estimates that between 27 and 30 million people are currently caught in the slave trade industry.
Slavery is a lucrative business, with an estimated $35 billion generated every year. To combat this, governments are creating laws which incentive companies to proactively work to eradicate slavery, while at the same time non-governmental organizations and journalists are creating extreme reputational risk for companies caught benefiting from a supply chain filled with human misery.
What weapons does a compliance officer have to combat modern slavery? Plenty. Here are a few:
1. Annual Risk Assessments
Your annual risk assessment should specifically include a review of high-risk areas for modern slavery. Review the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report to find out if any of the countries in which you operate are high-risk for slave trafficking.
2. Policies, Procedures and the Code of Conduct
Your company should adopt policies evidencing your commitment to work only with responsible companies who do not use slave labor, trafficked labor, prison labor, child labor or indentured servants. Your Code of Conduct should take a public stand against such abuses, and you should implement procedures with your procurement office to ensure slavery cannot find its way into your supply chain.
3. Supplier Codes of Conduct
Requiring suppliers to adhere and attest to your Supplier Code of Conduct is a great way to enforce your standards with respect to modern slavery. Be sure to include specific prohibitions to ensure the best outcome.
4. Contractual Obligations / push-down requirements
Your supplier contracts should include statements about the prohibition of the use of forced or trafficked labor. Try to include an audit clause so you are able to audit high-risk suppliers and a termination clause so you can terminate the contract if you find violations of the anti-slavery requirements.
5. Due Diligence on Suppliers prior to engagement and on an ongoing basis
Most companies with a compliance program have due diligence questionnaires relating to bribery and corruption. Your due diligence questionnaire should include questions with respect to hiring practices and the origin of the workforce so that you can evaluate your supplier before you engage them. Ask about employment practices to ensure compliance with your Supplier Code of Conduct or internal anti-slavery policies, and renew your due diligence on a one-to-three-year basis depending on level of risk.
6. Training of people in the company on red flags
Your procurement and HR functions should be given training about spotting modern-slavery-related red flags. Red flags include:
- Workers with withheld documents (such as passports) or withheld exit visas
- Physical punishment, captive conditions, or physical injuries to multiple people in one place
- Unrestrained/inhumane working hours or conditions, managers/pimps in control
- Indentured servitude or “repayment” for travel to worksite
- Incapacity to leave or change jobs
- Movement of workers strictly controlled (e.g., picked up and dropped off each day by controller)
- Child labor
- Offering of sex for money
7. Reporting mechanisms and whistle-blowing
Your whistle-blowing procedures should extend (where possible by law) to allow reporting on modern slavery. You may want to advertise your whistle-blower hotline in your high-risk locations or in offices located in countries with known slavery and trafficking issues.
8. Auditing and Internal Audit
As part of your coordination with Internal Audit, add anti-slavery elements into the audit plan for suppliers or for locations where there is a high risk of slavery. For instance, Audit can check the payment records for workers to ensure they are receiving at least the minimum wage in the country in which the work took place, and that the workers aren’t paying back exorbitant “recruitment fees” for their transit to the worksite.
Use of any of these weapons alone will help to combat human trafficking and modern slavery. Together they can provide a strong defense to protect your company from fines, investigations and the reputational harm.