Beyond Regulation: The Collective Effort to Stop Human Trafficking

Beyond Regulation: The Collective Effort to Stop Human Trafficking

The regulation of modern-day slavery has grown in recent years, but the issue persists in the form of workers rights’ violations such as excessive overtime, retention of identity documents and withheld wages. Despite increases in regulation, many companies operate under the assumption that the cost of non-compliance is lower than that of compliance because of gaps in modern slavery enforcement. However, modern slavery enforcement on the part of regulatory and non-regulatory bodies is increasing.

Regulatory Enforcement Landscape 

Governments are showing their commitment to stopping human trafficking by enacting between one and three new modern slavery laws every year since 2015, and this trend shows no sign of slowing. Unfortunately, enforcement of human trafficking regulation will take time, as resources are allocated to enforcement bodies and the companies in scope of the new regulations. The UK Modern Slavery Act (MSA), the U.S. Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA), the U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) are just the beginning of a sustained effort to curb human trafficking, and regulatory bodies are only now  turning their attention to enforcement. 

United Kingdom

Following the rollout of the UK MSA, the UK government has continued to demonstrate its commitment to eradicating modern slavery at home and internationally. Most recently, the Home Office conducted an audit of company compliance with the UK MSA, sending over 17,000 letters  to non-compliant companies. With the first-round audit complete, companies are due to receive another round of warning letters, giving them a final opportunity to meet minimum requirements. Failure to respond will result in their names being placed on a public list of organizations that have not complied with the law, with the intent of combating human trafficking in supply chains through public shaming. Solidifying the UK’s place as a global leader in combating modern slavery, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke at the United Nations’ International Labour Organization in Geneva in June 2019. May, who pushed for the enactment of the UK MSA as Home Secretary, reinforced the country’s position that world leaders have a moral duty to take action to halt modern slavery. 

United States

In the U.S., the Trump Administration also reaffirmed its commitment to combating modern slavery. The Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) increased enforcement of human trafficking initiatives, leading to inquiries being made into compliance with the CAATSA ban on North Korean forced labor. Companies that cannot prove compliance with regulations risk the loss of U.S. market access. It is estimated that $400 billion USD in tainted goods enters the U.S. market every year, and since increased enforcement began in 2016, the value of shipments seized at the U.S. border has grown

Law enforcement agencies rely on collaboration with other stakeholders for the enforcement of human trafficking and slavery regulations, as was the case with the U.S. Tariff Act’s ban on the importation of goods made with slave labor. In June 2019, the Grant & Eisenhofer ESG Institute filed a petition asking the U.S. CBP to ban the import of palm oil and its derivatives from Malaysia’s largest palm oil producer, accusing the company of using forced and child labor. Should the ban be put in place following an investigating by CBP, it would likely result in major supply chain disruptions, and the seizure of goods for the world’s largest food, beverage and cosmetics companies.

Civil Enforcement 

Non-regulators are also contributing to the drive towards more stringent corporate social responsibility programs. Companies with large supply chains, consumers, civil society organizations and investigators all play a role in enforcement. 

Lawsuits 

Civil lawsuits are some of the biggest contributors to enforcement, with over 300 lawsuits filed under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act in recent years, including litigation against a number of Fortune 500 companies that resulted in eight-figure settlements.


Is your company in scope of major human trafficking and slavery regulations, such as the UK Modern Slavery Act? Download our eBook, Human Trafficking, Slavery & Your Supply Chain, to find out.


Negative Media 

Civil society organizations and the media can often be more damaging to non-compliant companies than regulatory bodies, as their influence is both highly unpredictable and highly visible. While some civil society and media organizations give companies notice before issuing a report, many don’t. The process of organizations sharing information with the public is also unpredictable, and it’s often unclear how reports will implicate a company’s clients. This negative media risks damaging a brand’s image, putting its relationships with buyers at risk. 

Access to Public Contracts 

Whether publicly disclosed or not, a company’s response to modern slavery risks increasingly affects its market access across the world. Large institutional and government buyers are implementing procurement requirements that outline the need for due diligence to ensure respect for human rights in supply chains, including protecting workers from modern slavery and human trafficking. The Swedish government has begun to include questions on human rights in public procurement tender processes. In the U.S., federal contractors must comply with the FAR Final Rule on Combating Trafficking in Persons. Contractors with federal contracts over $500,000 USD (excluding commercially-available, off-the-shelf items) must develop and implement a compliance plan, outlining their due diligence efforts to address modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. 

One of the biggest examples of measures taken to tackle modern slavery within public procurement can be found in the UK. The UK National Health Service (NHS) is one of the largest purchasers of medical equipment globally and its supplier qualification process includes the Labour Standards Assurance System, which requires suppliers’ due diligence toward combating modern slavery. Companies selling into the NHS must be audited to ensure the protection of labor rights in their supply chains. Continuing the UK’s push toward responsible labor sourcing, the UK Cabinet Office has undergone a consultation to decide how the government should account for social value when awarding central government contracts.

Being excluded from government contracts is just one risk associated with not practicing due diligence with regard to human trafficking in supply chains. Non-compliance can also lead to supply chain disruption and last-minute scrambling for new sources of materials if an existing supplier is proved to be reliant on slave labor. This kind of discovery, often resulting in civil action, can lead to the quarantine of product and reputational damage for the company. All of this leads to financial burdens and other penalties that can follow a company long-term. 

Conclusion

With world leaders setting a high bar for addressing modern slavery and consumers becoming more aware of how their products are manufactured, companies must recognize the increased risk in not maintaining due diligence in their corporate social responsibility programs. 

The Assent Compliance Platform allows companies to efficiently collect, manage and analyze supply chain data from a single location. Our Human Rights Module automates the data collection and management process. To learn more about how Assent can help you meet your requirements under the UK MSA, contact us at  info@assentcompliance.com.

Newsletter