Sunday night I cheered as Steve McQueen dedicated his Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years a Slave to “all of the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”
I wondered how those words resonated across the globe? How many viewers understand that forced labor—our modern-day slavery—occurs at a horrifying scale, with estimated numbers affecting between 21 to 27 million people worldwide?
While companies, investors, consumers and other stakeholders are increasingly aware of human rights abuses embedded in global supply chains, they are less informed on the actions they can take to address these issues. Yet the well being of the workers who stitch our garments, harvest our coffee beans and assemble our electronics—including those broadcasting the Academy Awards—depend on a proactive corporate response.
Expectations for fair and equitable working conditions are included in the Ceres Roadmap, a strategic vision and practical framework for developing sustainable business strategies.
Ceres, a nonprofit group that mobilizes a powerful network of companies, investors and public interest groups to address global sustainability challenges, released its Roadmap in 2010, after two decades of working with companies and investors to integrate sustainability into the capital markets.
Now, Ceres and Sustainalytics are analyzing the sustainability practices of 600 of the largest U.S. companies against key Roadmap expectations, as part of a soon-to-be-released Road to 2020 progress report. With a particular focus on labor and human rights, this report will establish a baseline of corporate performance, identify leading practices, and highlight investor and stakeholder expectations, which will enable companies to identify concrete actions they can take to improve their performance.
Our early findings on supply chain performance are disheartening. Though there is evidence of leadership, the reality is clear: forced labor remains a persistent, often hidden issue, and many companies are not taking action at the speed and scale needed.
Despite disturbing headlines of fires in Bangladesh, labor strikes in Cambodia and concerted efforts by leading companies, investors and NGOs, 42 percent of the companies we assessed do not even have a basic supplier code of conduct.
Of the 58 percent of companies that do have evidence of supplier codes of conduct, only 42 percent have codes that specifically address forced labor, a core tenet of the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
In today’s global marketplace, where human rights concerns can damage even the glossiest of reputations, companies must know and show the performance of their suppliers. While our initial analysis points to a significant deficit in effective supply chain engagement, particularly in areas such as forced labor, closing this gap is possible. And companies, investors, and NGOs can play a critical role.
With this in mind, we invite you to attend the Ceres Conference 2014 (April 30-May 1), a gathering of more than 600 corporate sustainability leaders, institutional investors, and environmental and social advocates mobilizing action on the world’s most significant sustainability challenges. Ceres and Sustainalytics will release the Road to 2020 progress report at the conference, providing both companies and investors a practical framework to advance and scale needed change.
In 2014, no person should be enslaved. We applaud the work being done by KnowTheChain and its partners, and hope you will join us in this effort. The time for action is now.
Amy D. Augustine is a Director in the Corporate Program at Ceres, advising member companies on sustainability strategy, reporting, and stakeholder engagement. Amy also leads specific initiatives related to The 21st Century Corporation: The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, including Ceres’ supply chain work, and recently co-developed the Supplier Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ): Building the Foundation for Sustainable Supply Chains.