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UNRAVELING THE THREADS OF INJUSTICE: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS


Abstract:

Human Trafficking is commonly understood as the process through which individuals are placed or maintained in an exploitative situation for economic gain. People of all genders and ages are trafficked for a range of purposes, including forced and exploitative labour in industries, agriculture, domestic setting, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. This issue has a global impact, affecting virtually every region and the majority of nations worldwide.

 

Forced labour is particularly prevalent within the business supply chains and is referred to as modern-day slavery. Private companies in the corporate sector might inadvertently partake in human trafficking and forced labour activities. This problem is largely fueled by the competitive nature of the global economy and the desire for inexpensive labour.

 

The global community by adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has committed to put an end to child labour by 2025 and forced labour and human trafficking by 2030. To achieve SDG target 8.7, governments, business, the financial sector, and civil society must take significant measures to tackle the underlying factors and contributors to these human rights violations.

 

 

UNDERSTANDING HUMAN TRAFFICKING

The foremost agreed definition of trafficking was incorporated in 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, supplementing to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol). This definition has subsequently found its way into numerous legislations across the globe.

 

Definition of “Trafficking in Person” outlines three key elements that must be present for the situation of trafficking in case of persons (adults):

i)               Action (recruitment, …)

ii)             Means (threat, …) and

iii)           Purpose (exploitation)

 

Based on this definition, it covers a broad range of criteria, extending to situations of cross border exploitation that leads to the maintenance of individuals in exploitative circumstances.

 

A human rights-based approach is a conceptual framework for addressing a phenomenon such as trafficking. The fundamental legal principle related to trafficking is that individual should not be held accountable for a crime they were compelled to commit. An illustrative case that established the international legal framework on trafficking is Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia which was decided by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009. In relation to Article 3, the Court ruled that any mistreatment that Rantsev may have endured prior to her death was intrinsically linked to her alleged trafficking and exploitation. As a result, the Court decided to address this complaint under Article 4 where it observed that trafficking in human beings, much like slavery, inherently involved the exercise of powers akin to ownership rights. It treated individuals as commodities for buying and selling and subjected them to forced labour, enforced strict surveillance on their activities and frequently restricted their movements. The judgment concluded that Cyprus has breached its positive obligations under this Article in two ways: first, due to its failure to establish an appropriate legal and administrative framework to combat trafficking, primarily related to the existing artiste visa system and second, due to the police’s negligence in taking operational measures to protect Rantsev from trafficking, despite credible suspicions that she might have been a trafficked victim.

 

Research indicates that child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains can be attributed to the interplay of three crucial factors:

a)    Gaps in statutory legislations, enforcement and access to justice that create space for non-compliance.

b)    Socio-economic pressures facing individuals and workers, and

c)     Business conduct and business environment

 

In research conducted by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) review regarding laws reacted to human trafficking indicates that 168 countries among the 181 assessed have legislations criminalizing human trafficking broadly in line with United Nations Trafficking Protocol. Conversely, nine countries have anti-trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, or trafficking in children and four countries do not have the offence of human trafficking in their criminal codes.

 

THE ROLE OF GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS

Global Supply Chains encompass goods and services that cross international borders for consumption or as inputs for further production. The products that consumers buy are typically composed of components from various countries, undergoing processes like assembly, packaging and transportation across diverse markets. These intricate supply chains often linked to supply “webs” are challenging to map, making it difficult to measure instances of child labour, forced labour and human trafficking within them.

 

In recent years, those concerned with the issues of trafficking, forced labour and slavery have turned their attention to supply chains as a new focal point of action. Millions of people including women, men and children continue to endure forced labour for the private economy generating  $150 billion in profits each year (ILO reports, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, 2014). Thousands of everyday goods and services are influenced by modern day slavery, particularly affecting girls and young women who are not only the most vulnerable to exploitation but also represent the lease visible labour force in global supply chains.

 

Forced Labour, modern slavery and human trafficking are systematic problems within global supply chains, affecting a wide range of products for chocolates and coffee to cellphones, clothing and cotton.

 

The International Labour Organization estimates that nearly 40.3 million people are trapped in modern slavery with 5.4 victims for every 1000 people. As industries become more competitive, the situation can lead to the employment of migrants who are frequently trafficked for labour exploitation. For example, in readymade garment-manufacturing sector in Bangladesh accounts for over 80% of the nation’s export earnings, has around 4 million workers, with an estimated workforce of 55 percent to 60 percent girls and young women and ample evidence of forced labour. Seafood industry is one of the most overlooked and yet precarious sectors to work in, it plays a vital role in trade between many South Asian and Southeast Asian and Western, and European nations. However, the industry often neglects to track the origin of its workforce, focusing primarily on the product. Ensuring accountability in the supply chain, especially in industries like seafood with extensive global supply chains, is critical for a company’s human rights policy and ethical sourcing practices.

 

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines human trafficking, that encompasses two main categories: labour trafficking and sex trafficking. Labour Trafficking also known as “forced labour” involves recruitment, transportation, provision or boarding of a person using force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. Human trafficking stands second largest and fastest growing criminal enterprise generating estimated profits of $ 150 billion annually. The majority of victims, around 16.5 million (78%) are exploited primarily for non-sex related labour, specifically in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic service, hospitality, fishing, manufacturing, mining etc. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for 56% of the global victim populations and is the home to the most popular destinations for business to outsource services from India, China and Malaysia.

 

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY AND DUE DILIGENCE

Many corporations including Washington based companies such as Costco and Starbucks have robust Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives that focus on their global reach and aim to reduce instances of labour trafficking. Social media has proven to be a powerful tool in pushing corporations to take more actions to eradicate labour trafficking and similar abuses within supply chains, also known as ethical sourcing.

 

Regulatory measures play a vital role in encouraging business to conduct due diligence, but to be effective they should be consistent and clear about obligations and expectations placed on business. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call on States to “set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or jurisdiction respect human rights throughout their operations”.

 

Supply Chain transparency and due diligence laws are relatively recent developments and in some cases are still not in force so their effectiveness in driving meaningful reduction in child labour, forced labour and human trafficking has not yet been evaluated. Some of the examples are, in 2019, Australian’s Modern Slavery Act entered into force requiring large entities to publish annual statements outlining the risk of modern slavery in the global operations and supply chains, France adopted Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law which imposed duty of vigilance on large companies to prepare, implement and publish details of their due diligence plant to prevent human rights impact, similarly Netherlands adopted Child Labour Due Diligence Law and Conflict Minerals Regulation was adopted by European Union.

 

 

CHALLENGES AND GAPS

As global supply chains have evolved, they have become intricate networks involving multiple layers of suppliers, often extending into the informal economy, especially in the lower and outsourced segments of these chains. This expansion into the informal economy limits transparency and traceability, making it more challenging to monitor and address labour practices in these segments of supply chains.

 

For example, a recent study of forced labour in the tea industry in India, involving interviews with over 600 tea workers across 22 plantations and interviews over 100 business, trade union, government, and civil society actors, highlighted the links between cost pressures and forced labour. The study revealed widespread labour exploitation, including issues like underpayment and wage manipulation.

 

There have been recent developments such as announcement made on June 9, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as the Chair of the Forced Labour Enforcement Task Force (FLETF), made new changes to the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act (UFLP) Entity List where the goods produced by Xinjiang Zhongtai Chemical Co. Ltd and Ninestar Corporation and eight of its Zhuhai-based subsidiaries will be restricted from entering the United States as a result of the companies’ participation in business practices that target members of prosecuted groups, including Uyghur minorities in China. Clean supply chain public policy is one such approach that is necessary to enact changes.

 

Furthermore, there is a need for increased investments in countries to gather more timely and better disaggregated national data to build a clearer picture of the extent and characteristics of child labour in global supply chains and to strengthen the analysis of trafficking for forced labour. Ongoing efforts to develop measurement tools and ensure sustainability of data collection on these issues are particularly welcomes to inform future research and action.

 

CONCLUSION

The issue of human trafficking and forced labour in global supply chains is a pressing concern that requires collective actions from government, businesses, the financial sector and civil society to align with the goals and international human rights standards. The challenges necessitate multi-pronged approach that includes strengthening legislations, promoting corporate responsibility efforts and a commitment to human rights we can hope to eradicate these grave violations and protect the rights and dignity of individuals ensnared in modern-day slavery.






Author: Suteekshna Dubey

University and Year - Jindal Global Law School, Final Year

Programme- LL.B

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