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Ending Forced Labor in Supply Chains

by | Aug 11, 2016 | News, Vincentian Family at the U.N.

The UN’s recent High Level Political Forum in New York included an event focused on an aspect of human trafficking related to forced labor in supply chains.
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by Margaret O’Dwyer, DC

A Vincentian identity of disdaining human trafficking

Compassion for human slaves and those in forced labor ought to be in our Vincentian DNA. After all, according to Forbes’ e-book, Life of St. Vincent de Paul, our founder was captured by pirates, sold to a fisherman and later an alchemist, transferred to the alchemist’s nephew, then sold to a Frenchman who owned a farm. St. Vincent must have known what it feels like to be considered a marketable commodity.

Supply chains

There are many aspects to human slavery and forced labor. One of them relates to supply chains. Supply chains are the links from obtaining raw materials to the manufacturing, delivery, and sales of a product. In example, if you were purchasing a cotton blouse or shirt, the supply chain would include all the work from sowing cotton seeds to the clothing’s sale.

Practical tips when purchasing products

Often we ask what practical steps might be taken to prevent the scourge of human trafficking, especially because much of it seems hidden. One suggestion for diminishing forced labor is to inquire about companies’ supply chains when making purchases, or writing to company headquarters and asking about anti-trafficking measures related to their supply chains.

Checking your own “slavery footprint”

Another sobering experience is assessing your own “slavery footprint” by responding to the survey at (or google slavery footprint). This is a great awareness tool, but a head’s up that not all questions apply to everyone.

UN panel discussion on supply chains

The UN focused on creating safe supply chains, July 19, during a multi-panel presentation in New York. “Ending Forced Labor in Global Supply Chains” took place during the UN’s High Level Political Forum. It was co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Argentina, the United States Mission and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The panel discussed ways of ensuring that supply chains create quality jobs as well as sustainable and inclusive social and economic development. Combatting forced labor was a considerable part of the discussions.

21 million people are now victims of forced laborForced labor includes human trafficking, debt bondage, modern day slavery and other practices. For those learning about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ending human trafficking and forced labor is found in:

  • Target 5.2–Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  • Target 8.7–Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
  • Target 16.2–End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

Forced labor a “virus”

“Forced labor and trafficking is like a virus; it is not a disappearing relic of the past,” said panelist Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO. “It mutates and adapts to the world of work. If forced labor mutates according to circumstances in the world of work, then global supply chains are a key part,” Ryder noted.

Greater human trafficking awareness needed

Said U.S. Ambassador Sarah Mendelson, “I have worked in the counter-trafficking space for over fifteen years, and it remains, sadly, a niche human rights issue. It is still not widely known or understood.” Mendelson quoted ILO statistics reflecting that an estimated 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor in virtually every country in the world and that forced labor produces $150 Billion in illicit profits to traffickers each year.

“With figures like these, we need more, not less, engagement,” said the Ambassador. “With millions exploited for the enrichment of others, the status quo is not enough and can never be enough.”

More forced labor prosecutions, convictions sought

Mendelson indicated that 15 years of anti-trafficking efforts have focused on prosecution, protection, and prevention. She drew attention to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which counts a total of 77,823 identified victims, but only 18,930 prosecutions, leading to convictions in less than half (6,609) the cases. Of those, only 857 prosecutions related to labor trafficking. There were only 456 convictions and 14,262 identified victims.

Partnerships key to fighting forced labor, human trafficking

Mendelson called for greater awareness of human trafficking and increased partnerships to eliminate forced labor. “Sadly, I hear too often from colleagues at other Missions that ‘the SDGs were just an event,’” she said. “I wholeheartedly disagree, but even if it were true, we must turn that moment into a movement and mobilize new networks, new partnerships to end what is not only a crime in most countries, but a threat to development and a continuing human rights violation in all countries.”

Global economy affects trafficking

Keynote speaker Carlos Foradori, Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Argentina, said that unprecedented expansion of the global economy gives way to new forms of exploiting people. Efforts are underway, he said, at paying attention to the intervention of the rights of children in child labor, engaging whole communities, and warning migrants about the risks of criminal circles related to trafficking. (Note that the 2017 Global Conference on Child Labor will take place in Argentina).

ILO’s “8.7 Alliance” to roll out soon

In September, the ILO will launch the “8.7 Alliance,” which refers to partnerships among governments, employers, workers, UN agencies, regional organizations, media, academia, experts, civil society, consumers, and others in delivering a reduced trafficking world. According to the ILO, once Alliance partners have agreed on the mission and goals, a matrix will be developed to evaluate the group’s efforts and impact with regard to target 8.7. The idea is to engage multiple stakeholders while avoiding duplication and focusing on root causes and sustainable policies.

Dignity partnership to involve public, private sectors

Meanwhile, The U.S. Mission to the United Nations is involving interested UN Member States in an effort entitled, “The Dignity Partnership to End Forced Labor in Supply Chains.” The Dignity Partnership will be the first collaboration between multiple Member States and private sector representatives to raise awareness of human trafficking in supply chains in the context of Sustainable Development Goal implementation.

Corporate entities working on best practices in eliminating forced labor in supply chains also participated in the panel.


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