September 2, 2021

Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar criminal industry that uses intimidation, fraud or other forms of coercion to illegally force people into providing labor or services for little or no pay. Organizations can unintentionally contribute to human trafficking within their operations and supply chain, which can result in human rights violations, criminal penalties and fines.

Organizations have an ethical and legal responsibility to stop human trafficking and should take measures to identify individuals who may not be working of their own free will and report them to law enforcement.

According to the International Labour Organization, labor and sex trafficking affect millions of men, women and children worldwide and generates an estimated $150 billion in illegal profits each year. Traffickers often use false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure their victims. Language barriers, trafficker threats of violence, fears of deportation and distrust of law enforcement keep victims in forced labor situations and prevent them from seeking help.

Human trafficking occurs everywhere – in cities, suburbs and rural towns, where local businesses may unwittingly benefit from the crime.  For example, traffickers use banks to deposit and launder their earnings, buses and taxi services to move their victims around, hotel rooms for the operations of sex trafficking and social media platforms to recruit and advertise the services of their victims.

Organizations may also unintentionally support trafficking through the illegal actions of suppliers, contractors, subcontractors and partners. According to Polaris, a nonprofit which operates a national human trafficking hotline, the COVID pandemic has increased human trafficking by interrupting operations and supply chains to constrict the flow of goods and services. A US based corporation can be held criminally liable for trafficking crimes that occur within its domestic or international operations or supply chains. 

These 6 steps are among the actions that organizations can take to identify and eliminate human trafficking in their operations, the operations of business partners and elsewhere in their supply chain.

1. Implement policies prohibiting human trafficking
Develop organizational policies explicitly prohibiting human trafficking, communicate them internally and publicly, and integrate them into contracts with suppliers and business partners.

2. Enact training and awareness programs
Provide regular training, display posters and provide other handy reference materials to help employees recognize the signs of human trafficking and report their suspicions to management and law enforcement. 

3. Continually monitor trafficking risks
Keep track of global political and socioeconomic conditions that could increase the likelihood of human trafficking at locations where your organization operates and conduct unannounced site visits to supply chain partners to eliminate risks.

4. Require suppliers to certify compliance
In written contracts with supply chain partners, require them to periodically certify that they have complied with your organization’s policies to identify and eradicate human trafficking from their operations.

5. Provide a helpline to report trafficking
Implement a confidential 24/7 helpline for workers to report trafficking suspicions without the fear of retaliation and require business partners to do the same. Also be sure US employees have the numbers of local law enforcement and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888 and text line 233733).

6. Examine order placement practices
Monitor business conditions that can make your supply chain more susceptible to forced labor. For example, short deadlines for large amounts of a product may force a trusted supplier to look outside its own operations and engage in unvetted third parties for additional capacity.

Traliant Insight

Organizations have a moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety of all employees associated with their brand – from raw materials, to manufacturing and transportation, to the virtual and physical storefronts where products and services are sold. Providing regular human trafficking awareness training to employees, and having supply chain partners do the same, is one of the steps an organization can take to ensure everyone working on behalf of your organization is doing so of their own free will.