Friday, May 17, 2013

Slavery didn't get abolished. In fact, it's on the rise

Think Abraham Lincoln freed all the slaves? Think again.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials recently liberated two slaves from the Northern Virginia home of a Saudi diplomat. Two Filipinas were taken from the house where they were forced to work as housemaids.

ABC News, showing the usual reluctance to use the word "slaves," reported on May 2:
... federal law enforcement officials removed two potential human-trafficking victims from the home of a Saudi Arabian diplomat in Northern Virginia on Tuesday afternoon. 
An isolated incident, a feature of a wildly different culture from ours? Think again.

Farmworkers, for example, are victims of slavery in American fields. The Huffington Post tells us:
Workers have been kept under armed guard, locked up at night, forced to work, denied the right to speak to people off the farm, and beaten if they attempt to escape. Since 1997 in Florida alone, the federal government has won seven criminal prosecutions for farmworker slavery, involving more than 1,000 workers. Since 2010, Florida has initiated two more prosecutions.
Made In A Free World points out that today's supply chain enslaves more human beings than at any other time in history. More than 27 million people are trapped in slavery today, according to the U.S. State Department. They make products that are very much a part of North American culture: smart phones, T-shirts, computers, coffee. They work in fields, in mines, in raw materials processing.

Consumers are becoming more interested in and aware of the plight of the workers who harvest their food,  mine elements for their smart phones and make their computers. A new survey, for example, lets you find out approximately how many slaves work for you across the globe. (It's probably around 34.) You can take the survey here.

Major companies don't always know what their suppliers are up to. Adrian Gonzalez (not the Dodgers first baseman) writes in Logistics Viewpoints that transparency is essential in supply chain management.
...the use of slave labor in supply chains is a symptom of poor supply chain visibility. As with sustainability, trade security, and product safety and quality, if you want to make progress on eradicating slavery, you have to develop a more granular and detailed understanding of your supply chain. You have to improve the way you communicate and collaborate with your suppliers, especially lower-tiered ones. And most importantly, you can’t outsource the responsibility; the buck ultimately stops with you, the brand owner. You have to see and walk your supply chain, from start to finish, with your own eyes and feet. 
How many slaves are in your supply chain? It’s a question many companies can’t answer today. And it’s a question many companies have never even asked. But consumers are starting to pay more attention to this problem and they are asking the question, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to bring this question up at your next executive meeting.
Institutional investors are reminding Wal-Mart and Gap that their reputations could suffer among consumers because they won't disclose their supply chains. Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, representing Teamsters Affiliates Pension Plan, joined other institutional investors in signing a statement yesterday urging the retailers to clean up their act.

California, hopefully in the vanguard on this, is forcing major companies in the state to tell people what they're doing to eradicate slavery. The California Legislature passed the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, which applies to all retailers and manufacturers with $100 million in annual sales worldwide that do business in California.

Here's how it works, according to Corporate Compliance Insights:
The disclosure should illustrate the extent to which the retailer seller or manufacturer engages in each of the below actions designed to eliminate human trafficking and slavery from its supply chain. The law does not mandate any specific language or content. However, the disclosure must be conspicuous and easily understood. 
The disclosure should appear on the company’s homepage. If the company is made up of multiple business units, the company may wish to post the disclosure on the homepages of each of its business units. Providing a conspicuous link to the homepage of the parent entity would likely be acceptable as well.
The Teamsters and other unions well understand that a slave picking cotton in Uzbekistan lowers standards for workers everywhere in the world. That's why unions are fighting for worker safety and freedom in factories and fields around the world. The availability of cheap labor overseas lets multinational corporations cut wages and jobs in rich nations like the U.S. and Canada.

An injury to one is truly an injury to all, y'know.