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July 15, 2014

Corporations Must Stop Enabling Slavery – for Their Own Sakes

In an OpEd for the Guardian Mark Lagon, a former U.S. anti-human-trafficking ambassador, recently called corporations to account for their passive response to human trafficking: “To abolish today's slavery, businesses must actively be part of the solution. Philanthropy to worthy anti-trafficking organizations is not as important as businesses living by the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath – at least do no harm.” Despite important ethical obligations, companies often think that routing out slavery in their supply chains is too costly. However, it is actually in businesses’ interests to do so. Actively working to eliminate slavery from their production lines earns credibility with consumers, shareholders, and employees.

Lagon argues that as the public becomes more aware of human trafficking and businesses that enable it, they will make smarter choices with their dollars and choose to patronize businesses with a good track record at combatting slavery. Company shareholders will benefit from these practices as well. According to Lagon, “The multinational human resources corporation ManpowerGroup improved its credit ratings when it worked to combat manipulative recruiters and human trafficking.” When employees have faith in their company’s stance on exploitation, they make better brand ambassadors and have higher retention rates, saving their employers recruitment and training costs.

Transparency is key to holding corporations accountable for the abuses in their supply chains. According to United Nations guidelines for business obligations on human rights, companies must “‘know and show,’ –to apply due diligence looking into their operations and suppliers, and to report publicly on what they find.” When transparency is achieved, business incentives change. Their reputation on modern slavery is essential for maintaining customers, shareholders, and workers. Their participation in the movement to end slavery is essential for freeing the victims of trafficking whose labor and freedom have been stolen from them.