Modern slavery is a crime that victimizes as many as 27 million men, women, and children around the world. The United States’ 13th amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude, whether one is an immigrant or a natural-born citizen, a man, woman, or child. Article 4 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights expresses the same sentiment.
Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca is from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department. He said, “When the right to be free from slavery is violated, governments have a responsibility to punish whoever violated that right, and to restore what was damaged.” Only governments can arrest suspects, incarcerate traffickers, and provide legal status to their victims. That’s why it’s so important to emphasize that trafficking is a crime, and that governments are primarily responsible for trafficking.
But governments alone can’t solve the problem. To mount a truly effective response, governments need to forge partnerships, in particular with the business community. Modern slavery, Ambassador CdeBaca notes, is tainting the corporate supply chain on an alarming range of products. The traffickers are profiting through their exploitation of others but at great risk to a company’s reputation. The real and lasting damage to a brand once the public associates it with human trafficking can far outweigh profits from cheap garments, agricultural, fishery and mineral products, or advertising revenue from a website.
Responsible companies should monitor their supply chains and know exactly where the raw material for products are grown, gathered, harvested, mined, processed, and manufactured. Labor must also be recruited responsibly, ensuring that workers aren’t charged exorbitant up-front fees that they’ll never be able to repay.
Corporations can also have a victim-centered approach. Policies that aim to prevent this crime through supply chains and recruiting are critical, but there are as many as twenty-seven million people already victimized by this crime. The goal of a victim-centered government approach is to help these people restore their lives. They’re going to need jobs, training, and education. This is where the private sector has a critical role to play.
Governments must continue to take the lead in rooting out and punishing those who engage in human trafficking. The business community remains a vital partner in the fight.