In previous Vision articles, we have highlighted the fact that forced labor victims around the world are connected to multinational companies by labor supply chains that are hidden behind opaque layers of third-party intermediaries. The mere presence of these intermediaries can indicate a high risk of human trafficking and forced labor, yet companies lack visibility into labor supply networks and the performance of third-party intermediaries within them.
Coffee represents Guatemala’s largest export—valued at over USD $1.1 billion in 2012—with the United States as its leading importer, meaning prominent brands source significantly from the country. The Guatemalan agricultural sector constitutes its largest source of employment, with coffee as the country’s most important crop—providing employment for 90,000 small coffee farmers and 473,000 workers (seven percent of the workforce).
Earlier this month, Patagonia disclosed that focused foreign contract worker (FCW) assessments—conducted by Verité on its behalf—at material supplier factories in Taiwan revealed that it can take foreign workers up to two years of a three-year employment contract to pay off recruitment-related debt.
Solving supply chain Code of Conduct violations will take multi-faceted interventions. I was privileged to facilitate a panel on “Slavery in the Supply Chain” at the annual Trust Women Conference organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that presented some solutions, and challenges, to an audience of smart and committed people from business, government, media, advocacy and law. Conferences like this demonstrate that there are in many cases existing, effective solutions to pressing problems like forced labor in supply chains. In private conversations, I’ve been emphasizing lately the opportunity and urgency for companies to adopt these existing solutions now rather than await the invention of something new. Much benefit—to vulnerable workers, their employers, brands and other supply chain ‘owners’—can be achieved almost immediately if companies were to take steps like HP has (outlined in this newsletter elsewhere), and as we’ve described Apple doing in the past.
What Should Electronics Brands and Suppliers Do to Address Risks of Forced Labor in Their Supply Chains?
Verité’s two-year study of labor conditions in electronics manufacturing in Malaysia found that one in three foreign workers surveyed was in a condition of forced labor. Companies and their stakeholders have asked us to elaborate on what they should do address the problem of forced labor in supply chains.