Here in the States, today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day — a time when we recommit ourselves to ending modern-day slavery and exploitation. Although regulations on human trafficking are tightening, millions of people continue to suffer in every region of the world.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) says forced labor in the private economy equates to $150 billion in illicit profits every year, corrupting supply chains and the global economy. The problem is especially prevalent in industries with fierce downward pricing pressures, where cost-cutting measures can include slashing wages, disregarding safety protocols, and holding people in compelled service via withholding identity documentation or debt bondage. According to the ILO, debt bondage often occurs when people agree to pay high recruitment fees to find work, and then these exorbitant debts are used to forcibly obtain their labor.
Earlier this week, Ecologist reported on several cases of people at Malaysian firm Top Glove only being given access to their passports under a locker system and working 90-to-120 hours of overtime every month to pay off such huge recruitment debts. The world’s largest glovemaker, Top Glove supplies medical and rubber gloves to 195 countries and employs more than 11,000 migrant workers.
“Top Glove is not alone in hiring migrants who pay agents to secure a job,” author Beh Lih Yi wrote. “High recruitment fees are a common plight faced by the nearly two million registered migrant workers in Malaysia, which relies heavily on foreign labor in industries from plantations and construction to manufacturing.”
Top Glove executives said they were unaware of the recruitment fees and vowed to cut ties with unethical agents. Managing Director Lee Kim Meow said, “We need workers, no doubt, but we will not stoop so low.”
Of the more than 40 million victims of modern-day slavery, 18 percent of adults are laboring in construction, 15 percent in manufacturing, and 11 percent in agriculture and fishing.
Know your supply chain
Because of increasing pressure, more businesses are acutely focused on ending human trafficking in their supply chains. This is simply a necessary part of managing risk and being a responsible business.
While this may seem like a daunting task, there are technologies that can help. Blockchain is being used to capture data on origin and chain of custody; mobile phone apps enable anonymous reporting of abuse; and a new technology called environmental microbiomes will be able to create unique markers in the make-up of bacteria, fungi, algae and viruses in order to track and trace products.
This Human Trafficking Awareness Day, I hope you will take a few minutes to read the APICS magazine interview “Truckers Shine Light on a Hidden Crime,” which explains how supply chain management professionals — particularly those in logistics, transportation and distribution — can help end human trafficking. Then, visit knowthechain.org to see what companies around the world are doing to address this global crisis. Finally, learn about the Association for Supply Chain Management’s new SCOR-Enterprise designation, which is the industry’s first and only corporate supply chain designation that includes an ethical dimension. We all have a role to play in eradicating forced labor in supply chains.