Eradicating Slavery – a Corporate and Consumer Responsibility

This week KnowTheChain.org marks one year since the site launched. In just twelve months, KnowTheChain has received more than sixty thousand page views. We’ve heard interest from investors, consumers, and journalists, in addition to direct engagement with companies leading to improved transparency statements. Meanwhile, policy…

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October 22, 2014
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This week KnowTheChain.org marks one year since the site launched. In just twelve months, KnowTheChain has received more than sixty thousand page views. We’ve heard interest from investors, consumers, and journalists, in addition to direct engagement with companies leading to improved transparency statements. Meanwhile, policy makers have continued to expand their attention to the issue, with transparency in supply chains legislation under consideration in both the US Congress and the UK Parliament. The corporate world has been rocked by exposure to forced labor and exploitation in industries from shrimp to electronics, driving home the importance of proactive business attention to the risk of trafficking in their supply chains. Looking forward, KnowTheChain will continue to serve as a resource for companies seeking to establish policies and procedures to address this risk, and for the many stakeholders following companies’ progress.

On this first anniversary, we are delighted to welcome as a guest blogger Darrell Steinberg, former President pro Tem of the California State Senate and the original author of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.


As we walk along the street sipping a soft drink, it likely never occurs to us that we may be an unwitting supporter of modern-day slavery.

Yet the possibility is very real. A four year study released in 2009 by the US Department of Labor found that 122 goods from 58 countries were suspected of being tainted by forced labor and other human rights violations. The list included cotton, footwear and sugarcane to name a few.

Think about the clothes and shoes you wear. Think about the sweetened drink you sip. As consumers, we inadvertently finance slavery through the products we buy and use every day. Most of us simply don’t make the connection. None of us wants to think the money we spend maintains the bondage of men, women and children we will never see.

The list is long. Whether it’s food or clothing, computers or other electronics, too many of these products are produced far from where they are bought, successively changing hands through complex supply chains. Forced and child labor exist through many of these supply chains, with documented abuses throughout the production process. By some estimates, some 30 million people around the world are living in such slavery today.

Don’t assume this only happens in distant countries. During California’s legislative efforts to address human trafficking, lawmakers heard stunning testimony through the personal stories of people enslaved in some of our state’s wealthiest cities. These are victims came from other countries for the promise of a good job and a better life for their families. Their dreams were shattered into pieces with the reality some faced once they arrived; saddled with debt by the traffickers who brought them, they worked 18-hours a day in factories where they were also forced to live. They survived on meager rations of food. If they became sick or made even small mistakes in their work, some suffered even more unspeakable abuse.

While existing laws make human trafficking a crime, those laws had done little to address the growing markets that consume products tainted with slavery and forced labor. We learned that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are estimated to be victims of human trafficking in the United States every year. At any given time in the U.S., approximately 10,000 people were working in forced labor.

And California – the eighth largest economy in the world with $2 trillion in gross domestic product – is one of the top four trafficking destinations in the states. Turning a blind eye to such stark reality is untenable.

That is why I authored Senate Bill 657 – the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010. This legislation that became effective in 2012 was the first of its kind, designed to ensure that large corporations doing business here in California are both aware of the existence of trafficking in their supply chains and are compelled to inform the public about how they’re addressing it.

Global businesses have a responsibility to eradicate modern-day slavery within their supply chains. The transparent availability of information required by the Act empowers consumers, investors and analysts with the knowledge of how companies are identifying and addressing slavery in the production of their merchandise. That knowledge is power, and consumers certainly have a role to play by using their purchasing power as leverage to eradicate slavery.

One year ago a new supply chain transparency resource was launched to draw attention to Senate Bill 657, and to enhance the important dialogue about issues of human trafficking and slavery. A group of non-profit organizations created www.KnowTheChain.org to increase disclosure and transparency around corporate supply chains and to encourage more companies to examine their supply chains for the crime of modern-day slavery. This site, which was launched one year ago this week, is an important resource to educate companies, investors, policymakers and consumers.

While SB 657 and KnowTheChain.org are important first steps toward increasing supply chain transparency, there is still much more to be done. I am very proud that this Act has sparked debate and legislative efforts in other states and countries, and that a similar bill will soon be introduced in the U.S. Congress. My hope is that companies will go beyond basic compliance with these laws by being proactive in taking meaningful action to combat slavery in their supply chains.

Modern-day slavery is a heinous crime occurring in every corner of the globe, robbing tens of millions of people of their basic freedom and dignity. As consumers, we can and should make our voices heard. We have a responsibility, and now an opportunity, to ensure the goods and products we purchase are unmarred by this global crime.

Darrell Steinberg is the former President pro Tem of the California State Senate and the author of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.