Human trafficking has been splashed all over the news this week with the Metropolitan Police cracking a forced prostitution ring in Kensington. But it isn’t just making the headlines on the news-stands: as both a legal and reputational risk for companies, it’s fast becoming an essential agenda item for CSR professionals.
When most people hear the phrase ‘human trafficking’ they think of the sex trade, and whilst that industry is the site of most trafficking crimes, the definition actually includes a wide range of labour rights malpractice relevant to a variety of sectors. According to the US State Department, this includes forced labour, bonded labour, forced child labour and debt bondage amongst migrant workers.
Most businesses won’t be directly engaging in any form of human trafficking but indirect responsibility is still a significant risk. Global supply chains are the obvious area of vulnerability, especially in the textile and garment industries where labourers in developing countries may be working to pay off ‘loans’ in sweatshop conditions.
But the threat is also present closer to home. The use of agency workers demands extra diligence on the part of companies contracting out. The high profile arrests of farm labour providers in Maidstone, Kent, late last year showed the embarrassing results of inattention to the operations of agencies used for sub-contracted staff.
The airline and hospitality industries have also been fingered as sectors exposed to the crime, as traffickers use their services to move and harbour victims. Forward-thinkers in these industries have been taking action; Delta airlines has implemented a training programme to help staff identify potential cases of human trafficking and hotel group Carlson has recently introduced policies to address child sexual exploitation. Both of these business heavyweights are part of the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking, launched last year, which counts powerful players like Microsoft and ExxonMobil amongst its founder members.
Unlike California which passed a law in 2010 forcing companies to disclose the steps they are taking to address human trafficking, attempts to pass legislation here in the UK have so far failed. But just last month Prime Minister David Cameron made the commitment that the UK government would “crush it, stamp it out.” With big business taking action and rising political awareness, there’s no doubt that understanding human trafficking and how to prevent it is now an indispensable component of any CSR professional’s toolkit.
Find out more about best practice when addressing human trafficking in the United Nations’ Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking guide for businesses
Emily Kenway works in the third sector promoting responsible practices by companies and investors. Prior to 2011, Emily was a professional opera singer before following her passion for sustainability into this new career. Her particular interests include the circular economy, environmental impacts, and the food industry.