End Labour Trafficking

Without a doubt, the trafficking in persons for labour exploitation runs on simple economic principles - it exists because it is profitable.

In order to compete against similar producers, business men and women opt for cheap or slave labour and unwitting or uncaring consumers reward them through increased purchases.

But therein also lies the weakness of the modern slave trade.

We would like to highlight some of our options in the world today to end the trafficking of persons for labour exploitation.

Firstly, where domestic servitude and some aspects of forced labour are concerned, civil action against employers has proven internationally to provide support for trafficking victims. In this way, freed slaves can recover unpaid wages and benefits and the law may even authorise the forfeiture of offenders' assets to meet a successful award of damages.

Secondly, as consumers, we must become informed about the industries and businesses which employ slave labour so that we can cease to patronise them or utilise our power as consumers to compel them to alter their business practices and become more socially responsible.

In that regard, reports published by the United States Department of Labour or the International Labour Organisation may often indicate countries where slave labour is utilised. Unfortunately, they seldom specify which companies within those nations may be culpable.

However, investigative journalism is increasingly exposing profitable companies which rely on poor workers in third world countries to manufacture their products for sale in first world countries. Apple Inc. and others have been forced to apologise for and change their outsourcing practices when faced with evidence in the global media of slave-like conditions at factories where components of their popular electronic are manufactured.

In addition, some anti-slavery advocacy groups provide Internet or mobile phone resources to equip interested consumers.

One such group, Not for Sale, provides a free mobile phone application and website to help identify companies which allegedly rely on slave labour to produce chocolate, clothing, electronics and other items for consumers in Western markets.

Another organisation operates a website, Slavery Footprint, which allows Internet visitors to review how many slaves work for them based on the items they own and consume regularly.

Thirdly, there are legislative and industry initiatives to apply pressure on businesses to develop and adhere to minimum standards of behaviour so as to eliminate human trafficking from supply chains.

We appreciate the legislative novelty of the Transparency in Supply Chains Act of the State of California in the U.S.A. The Act came into force in January 2013 and applies to any company with $100 million in worldwide sales and some connection to California by requiring them to make full disclosure about their supply chains and whether they regularly check them for possible slavery or trafficking conditions — and if so, what they do about it.

For us in the Caribbean who increasingly import household, clothing and other products from countries around the globe, legislation which requires our importers and businessmen to make inquiries of their supply chain could prove helpful in sensitising the business community as a whole to the problem of global labour trafficking.

This may be especially important for those regional companies which conduct business with countries which have been identified by the United States Departments of State and Labour and the International Labour Organisation as major offenders in terms of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.

The shift to the aforementioned forms of corporate social responsibility and ethical trade principles could possibly promote new opportunities for industry in this part of the world.

A possible result could be one in which the Caribbean develops new or revamps previous labour intensive industries – with fair working conditions and wages – to produce quality products which are slave-free. That way, we would build an economic culture where we shy away from the items manufactured in other parts of the world at lower costs but with a hefty price tag in terms of the extent of human misery and exploitation they cause.

Already, several companies worldwide are certifying their products as "fair trade". Just as eco-friendly products and practices have become popular and are endorsed by governments, CURB hopes that fair trade and slave-free products and practices will receive equal emphasis.

As in the nineteenth century, today's consumers can purchase such items with the knowledge that their purchasing power is not contributing to human rights atrocities being committed in the name of profit.

Moreover, as the world's great polluters are subject to financial sanctions, we hope that violators of trafficking laws will be penalised heavily for their human rights infractions. We already see that heavy penalties for such activities have been prescribed in the Trinidad and Tobago Trafficking In persons Act and the Transparency in Supply Chains Act of the State of California.