2021 in Review: A Year of Heightened Risk and Increased Visibility
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Only a year ago, stories about supply chains were seldom featured in the media. As we arrive at the close of 2021, news stories focusing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on supply chains is provided daily, and reports in the media have made consumers increasingly aware of where the goods they purchase come from, how they are made, and who works to harvest, produce, and deliver those goods. And while increased awareness is welcome, the fact remains that the pandemic has exacerbated structural inequalities and set back workers’ rights and material gains hard won over many decades. Child labor is on the rise for the first time in 20 years, and climate change and rising poverty are driving labor migration, thus putting more people at risk of forced labor.
Verité’s work has never been more pressing, and we have responded to existing and new challenges with a wide variety of impactful programs and services that help to set the pace for how global supply chain policies and practices can protect and empower workers across sectors around the world. Our partnerships with both the public and private sector — companies, governments, civil society organizations, unions, and, most importantly, the workers themselves — are vital in these times, as no single entity — and no unilateral approach — can turn the tide.
To support stakeholders up and down supply chains, over the past year, Verité has produced a wide variety of open-source materials, including new toolkits for palm oil producers and the private security industry, and reports on the tuna sector in Southeast Asia and combatting forced and child labor of refugees in supply chains. Our work on ethical recruitment continues to grow and deepen across all sectors and regions, while other major multi-stakeholder, long-term projects like SENDEROS, STREAMS, the COFFEE Project, the Forced Labor Indicators Project (FLIP), and the CUMULUS Forced Labor Screen™, to name a few, are pioneering new ways of promoting labor rights promotion and compliance.
We would like to thank all the institutions and individuals we have partnered with this past year. Your support, commitment, and input help to make our work stronger, more impactful, and drive meaningful, sustainable change for workers.
Wishing you all the best in 2022,
The Verité Team
As an independent, non-profit, civil society organization, Verité’s ability to continue to share our knowledge and insights about how to effect change in global supply chains is directly dependent on tax-deductible donations and grants, so we respectfully request that you please donate to support Verité’s work and advance our vision in 2022.
A Selection of Our Notable Accomplishments in 2021
Senderos is a capacity building project for improving adherence to international labor standards in Mexico’s agricultural sector.
This past year, in collaboration with the Mexican government, Senderos worked on the design of an enhanced labor inspection system, completing the conceptualization phase that included the identification of guidelines, manuals, and procedures. Working with the private sector, Senderos signed collaboration agreements with two sugarcane supply sheds in Jalisco and Nayarit, and advanced efforts toward a third in Jalisco. Agreements had already been established with two companies in the tobacco sector.
Throughout 2021, Senderos supported the identification of priority areas of intervention, designed and provided training on international labor standards, and developed tools and resources for addressing due diligence priorities in the sugarcane sector. Senderos also developed a training program for workers focusing on practical guidance for exercising their labor rights and empowering them to access locally available services which will later be complemented by efforts by the private sector.
Verité and the Tent Partnership for Refugees published the report “Combating Forced and Child Labor of Refugees in Global Supply Chains: The Role of Responsible Sourcing.” This new report offers guidance that can help companies hire and incorporate refugees into their supply chains and advocate for their rights as a proactive strategy towards combating forced labor.
The report contains detailed information on labor vulnerabilities faced by refugees in global supply chains and makes the case for why multinational companies should include refugees in their strategies to combat forced labor. It provides companies and their responsible sourcing teams with concrete actions they can take to encourage their suppliers to hire refugees and advocate for refugees’ expanded right to work.
A central finding of the research indicates that refugees live and work in almost all countries of the world and in varying situations of vulnerability to forced labor. The report proposes that in the face of the global phenomenon of long-term displacement, companies must take concrete steps to integrate refugee protection and livelihood into their responsible sourcing due diligence.
Abuse of migrant workers in the Gulf States and Jordan has been well-documented. In many Gulf States, foreign workers comprise over 90 percent of the private sector, low-wage workforce, with Indian and East African migrants representing a significant portion of these workers.
Following several years of development, this past April, Verité and project partners launched the following initiatives in East Africa and India:
- In Kenya, the project focused on promoting safe and fair labor migration from East Africa to the Gulf States through a strategy centered on the promotion of ethical recruitment and policy reform, as well as worker-centered national safe migration campaign which reached over 9 million people.
- For India-Gulf labor migration corridors, the project centered around building capacities of civil society and other key actors to provide workers with information and guidance to navigate the risks of labor migration.
Tuna fishers are exposed to some of the most severe, dangerous working and living conditions ever documented, including high vulnerability to forced labor and human trafficking. With the generous support of the Walmart Foundation, Verité and Verité Southeast Asia (VSEA) implemented an initiative to better protect tuna fishers and vessel workers from human trafficking and forced labor by promoting ethical recruitment and understanding the barriers that prevent ethical recruitment practices from being adopted.
Reports published include: Recruitment and Hiring Practices in the Philippine Tuna Handline Fishing Sector and Recruitment and Employment Experiences of Filipino Migrant Fishers in Taiwan’s Tuna Fishing Sector.
Throughout 2021, Verité worked in concert with other organizations to support policy and legislation that promote decent work and ensure accountability for labor abuses. Through engagement with advocacy groups such as the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), and the Tariff Act Advisory Group (TAAG), we advocated for robust funding of federal programs and the creation and effective enforcement of laws and regulations to promote labor rights.
This past year, the CUMULUS Forced Labor Screen™ platform experienced significant growth. Launched in spring 2019, the platform has now screened over 600 entities in 12 industry sectors, 18 receiving countries, and 40 sending countries, accounting for a total of approximately 125,000 foreign workers. Users of the platform are provided with targeted and regularly refreshed risk data from multiple sources, as well as recommended remedial and preventive measures including suggestions on how to prioritize forced labor due diligence efforts, manage compliance, and other capability building interventions. CUMULUS also confidentially shares common exposure among users to forced labor risk indicators and unethical recruitment agents, in both sending and receiving countries.
Leading companies that use the platform as part of their forced labor due diligence at prioritized operations, suppliers, and other business partners include Nike, Target, and NXP.
A new CUMULUS feature under development will allow member companies to verify that employers in their own operations, supply chain, and investment portfolios pay recruitment fees and related costs in line with the Employer Pays Principle and best practices in forced labor due diligence.
Verité has continued to deploy our remote assessment approach amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, preserving our in-depth, practical approach to assessments that brings real change to workplaces. Importantly, this includes continued commitment to reaching vulnerable worker populations remotely, with our assessment teams placing significant emphasis on worker input as the most critical component of our field work. This year we interviewed approximately 1,500 workers during our assessments, across a range of sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, agro-processing, raw materials extraction, and business process outsourcing. Verité chooses to work with multinational corporations across countries and business sectors which have demonstrated a commitment to making lasting impact on the lives of workers. Our comprehensive, worker-centric approach identifies risk in supply chains and offers practical recommendations to remedy problems and fight root causes, forming the foundation of sustainable change in workers’ lives.
As part of Verité’s ongoing work to improve labor practices in the Latin American coffee sector under the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Cooperation on Fair, Free, Equitable Employment (COFFEE) Project, this year we launced pilot projects in three key coffee producing countries — Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.
The pilot projects involve field testing of innovative and cost-effective tools developed as part of the COFFEE Project’s Socially Sustainable Sourcing Toolkit (S3T), which contains 12 practical tools aligned with the eight steps of USDOL’s Comply Chain model.
The pilot projects — designed in collaboration with private sector, civil society, and industry association partners — enable the COFFEE Project to test approaches to improving working conditions for farmworkers, and provide opportunities for refining tools and good practices.
This past spring, Verité launched the Toolkit for Palm Oil Producers on Labor Rights, a free, open-source toolkit to help palm oil producers understand how their business decisions and labor practices impact workers’ rights and welfare — and guide their next steps toward establishing better labor practices.
The toolkit is available in Bahasa, English, and Spanish languages in both an interactive online format and as a downloadable file, and was developed with the generous support of Mars and Nestlé.
International exposés of labor conditions on Thai fishing vessels have long identified a vessel’s physical structure as an inherent driver of labor risk in the industry. These findings led Nestlé and Verité to collaborate on a project exploring how Thai fishing vessels might be modified to enable long-term improvements for both the workers and vessel owners.
Verité launched an exciting new initiative to enhance the tracing of goods made with child labor and forced labor in the garment sector.
Supply chains for finished goods have become increasingly complex, making it more challenging to trace the journey of a commodity from farm to finished product, know which suppliers are involved, and see where exploitative labor conditions are occurring. STREAMS will map and categorize supply chains and methods for tracing and validating supply chain connections, pilot and validate the effectiveness of novel approaches to supply chain tracing in the garment sector of India, and create accessible tools to enable diverse actors across sectors and supply chain tiers to adopt innovative tracing approaches.
Verité launched a new e-learning module, Introduction to Forced Labor, training people on laws and frameworks that seek to end labor and recruitment practices that can lead to forced labor. The course also provides guidance to companies seeking to eliminate forced labor in their supply chains. See the course
Our remote training programs continued to expand across agricultural sectors, reaching diverse stakeholders in the raw materials supply chains of cocoa, palm oil, sugar, and coffee.
We continued to offer our Verité Ethical Recruitment Auditor (VERA) Training, which focuses on due diligence and detecting forced labor risks in company’s labor supply chains. Learn more
Stay tuned in 2022 for public training resources for government agencies involved in procurement, as well as resources aimed at empowering workers to seek out and ensure fair employment.
The private security sector is one of the fastest growing in the world, as security guards are increasingly hired to guard factories, office buildings, extractive worksites, residential facilities, transport hubs, and hotels, in addition to military and other government facilities. Migrant workers are often hired for these positions and, as such, a risk of human trafficking exists.
With support from the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Verité developed a suite of tools that provides guidance and assistance on combating human trafficking in supply chains to actors in the private security sector, particularly private security companies. These tools will also be useful to any company having facilities within its supply chain where private security workers are present.
FLIP is pleased to have had another successful year filled with stakeholder engagement, trainings, and work to promote the use of the ILO forced labor indicators approach. These efforts have been highlighted by expanding the project into Cote d’Ivoire where FLIP has established an office and Ivoirian team to lead FLIP programming. Other highlights include the launch of the Curriculum on Forced Labour for Labour Inspectors in Ghana, a resource designed for training labor inspectors, and a Curriculum on Forced Labour for Cocoa Suppliers (French and English Versions). FLIP continued to work with stakeholders in the public and private sectors, unions, and CSOs to build capacity on the use of the ILO indicators of forced labor. Some stakeholders trained include:
- Levin Sources (a social enterprise consultancy working to build sustainable, equitable minerals supply chains)
- The Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD)
- Twelve cocoa suppliers in both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire
The FLIP Ghana Technical Working Group successfully met each quarter to continue providing technical inputs for the project and to continue working together to share knowledge and experience on forced labor.
With the support of Porticus, Verité conducted an assessment of labor risks for Filipino migrant workers involved in the fishing, seafaring, and domestic work sectors in Europe, as well as in two emerging host countries for Filipino workers: the Czech Republic and Poland. Findings from this research document the root causes of labor risk associated with the recruitment and hiring process and those that arise while being deployed in Europe. For each target sector and host country, the report provides steps that governments, the private sector, civil society, trade unions, and other stakeholders can take to reduce labor exploitation among Filipino migrant workers.