There are more than 27 million victims of human trafficking identified every year – an astonishing figure that’s hard to comprehend at any time in history, let alone in 2012.
But the sad fact is that modern day slavery is very much alive and well.
Human trafficking is the second largest illegal industry on the planet, generating more than £20 billion in revenues every year – that’s more than Nike
combined. And this inhumane practice takes place all over the world, even here in the UK.
Yet too many people remain ignorant of its existence. Because of my position, I regularly speak to Fortune 500 companies about this significant issue, but am continually met with the same response: “What human trafficking? What slavery?”
And who can blame them for their lack of awareness? When the matter was first drawn to my attention seven years ago, I responded in exactly the same way. As an industry and a society, we need to shine a spotlight on this very real social problem, pushing it up the corporate and social agenda in order to ‘re-abolish’ slavery once and for all.
Human trafficking has the potential to find its way into any supply chain around the world – it can be found in sectors ranging from the sex industry and agriculture to low-skilled manual work. According to UN.GIFT
, the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, some 161 countries are affected by such activities by being a source, transit point or ultimate destination for victims.
But the responsibility to put an end to this injustice does not solely lie with governments, human rights organisations or charities. The global business community can – and must – also play its part. And there are already a number of private sector initiatives making positive headway, for example, the Not For Sale
campaign and The CNN Freedom Project
, which is one of the most well-known.
The Freedom Project takes advantage of the broadcaster’s global reach and ability to propel the issue onto the media agenda by showing shocking, and sadly real-life, accounts of modern day slavery. But it also provides a platform through which to celebrate the work that corporations and individuals are doing to confront the problem.
The End Human Trafficking Now!
campaign, of which I am president, is another scheme that is trying to encourage the private sector to take part in anti-human trafficking initiatives and, more broadly, to become more aware of the importance of operating in an ethically-minded fashion.
In 2006, it established the Athens Ethical Principles
, which declare a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards working with any organisation that benefits in any way from human trafficking. These Principles essentially constitute a 21st century abolition movement – by adding their signature, organisations make a very public declaration that they will eliminate the practice from the workings of their business at every point.
is very proud to have been the first company to sign up to the Principles which have, to date, gained 12,500 signatories. But while this is an important milestone on the journey, there is still a long way to go.
We, as a recruitment firm, take our commitment very seriously, however. Therefore, we have gone down the significant route of working with our hundreds of thousands of suppliers in order to ensure that their businesses are free from slavery, forced labour and exploitation – a state of affairs that we request they demonstrate during the tendering process.
But we also believe that it is equally important to champion those individuals who take a stand against human trafficking – a belief that has led us to become lead sponsor of the Row For Freedom
campaign. This one-off event, which is taking place now, will see five ordinary women row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic in order to raise awareness of the issue as well as much-needed funds for charities supporting its victims.
The extraordinary efforts of these women provide a concrete example of how anyone, anywhere can make a difference.
Slavery-free supply chains
As an industry, however, we must lead from the front and strive to ensure that all of our supply chains are free from slavery. This is a long process but one that must be undertaken.
The first step down the path is to investigate your own business and ensure that its practices are ethical, before looking at your recruitment and other suppliers and the companies that you supply to.
Ask yourself: “Are your/their business practices ethical? Do you/they protect each and every person involved across your/their entire end-to-end business processes?” If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions, then both your and their business reputation is and will be tarnished.
Ideally, however, we need to reach a point where products, services and organisations can be accredited and carry a ‘slavery-free’ stamp so that consumers are able to make informed, educated choices about the offerings they buy. But until organisations take full responsibility for the activities taking place in their supply chain, such a dream is a long way off.
There are practical measures that can be taken today though such as integrating a ‘slavery-free’ clause into any new tender as a simple way of ensuring that your organisation in no way prospers from human trafficking going forward.
The situation is that it is simply not enough to just be informed about the issue – you have to do something about it too. By this time tomorrow, another 36,000 people will have been trafficked.
David Arkless, ManpowerGroup‘s president of global corporate and government affairs; president of the End Human Trafficking Now! campaign; ambassador for the Centre for Social Justice and advisor on its Anti-Slavery Report.