Every day, we are faced with the dilemma of knowing that so many of the things we buy -- our clothing, shoes, electronics, and even our food -- may be made by men, women, and children working in inhumane conditions, against their will. Human trafficking and severe forms of exploitation exist in the service sector, as well as during the harvesting of raw materials, the manufacturing of components, and the production or assembly of goods. Human trafficking is found in both international and domestic markets, in virtually every industry. In an emblematic tragedy in 2013, more than 1,100 garment workers were killed in Bangladesh when they were forced to continue working in a dangerous, structurally unsound, 8-story building. As the building collapsed, the workers were unable to escape through locked doors.
The lack of transparency in a company’s supply chain impacts both consumers and corporations, as both are often unaware of the source of labor used in the goods and services they consume and procure. In addition, workers’ voices are rarely at the table when labor standards are established.
- 85 million child laborers engaged in hazardous work (Source: International Labor Organization)
- 136 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
- 32% of foreign workers interviewed in the Malaysian electronics sector were in situations of forced labor. (Source: Verité)
Ensuring transparent supply chains is the first step to eradicating goods and services made by forced labor from our marketplaces. Legitimate businesses can engage with subject matter experts to identify where they may be at risk for illicit activities in their supply chains and find opportunities to address human trafficking at scale. In addition, we must improve upon, and enforce existing laws and regulations, educate consumers about the realities of the problem, and develop guidelines and highlight best practices. In addition, companies should partner with workers in articulating workplace standards and codes of conduct.
Our Work In Action
The Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015 (H.R. 3226 and S.1968), introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sen. Markey (D-MA), is one of Polaris’s top federal policy priorities. This bill would require large companies to disclose the measures they're taking to address forced labor and human trafficking within their supply chains and empower everyday consumers to make informed decisions about the companies they choose to support. We are working closely with members of Congress to build support for the passage of this legislation and advance fair, humane conditions for workers.
Photo credit: iStock