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The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, known as the TIP Report, should be read with both pride and horror. Horror, because an estimated 27 million men, women and children around the world are victims of human trafficking, and pride, because our State Department doggedly documents human trafficking in a continuing effort to end it, in part by shaming countries into taking steps against it.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of exploitation, which can include prostitution, forced labor or servitude. Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agricultural fields, restaurants, hotels and domestic service.
While companies are generally aware of human trafficking, the relationship between business and human trafficking is less evident. According to the 2009 “Private Sector Survey on Human Trafficking” conducted by the United Nations Global Compact, United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), 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.
Human trafficking affects companies in many ways, and it is important to realize that human trafficking operations may exist alongside legitimate businesses. Companies may be directly connected to the practice through the recruitment, transport or receipt of a trafficking victim. Companies may be implicated in human trafficking if their premises, products or services are used for the purpose of trafficking (e.g., in the transport, tourism or hospitality sectors).
Businesses also can be indirectly linked to trafficking through the actions of their suppliers, business partners or customers. Even if the link may not be intended or even known, a company may still be enabling or supporting human trafficking. Common facilitators on which traffickers frequently rely include:
Companies should be concerned about human trafficking for several reasons: human trafficking is morally unacceptable, human trafficking is a criminal offense in many countries, and allegations that a company is implicated in human trafficking present legal risks as well as threats to brand reputation. All businesses should join the fight against human trafficking and take steps to make it harder for traffickers to operate using their products, premises or services, and by helping to raise awareness of the problem.
To find out how your business might be connected to human trafficking, go to slaveryfootprint.org, a website backed by the U.S State Department.
Bart M. Schwartz is the chairman of Guidepost Solutions LLC, a global leader in investigations, due diligence, security and technology consulting, immigration and cross-border consulting, and monitoring and compliance solutions.