Op-Ed: Cut trafficking in persons out of the supply chain

By Jay N. Anania, U.S. Ambassador to Suriname

PARAMARIBO – More than 20 million people today are trapped in human trafficking, also called modern slavery.  It is a crime that happens almost everywhere and affects virtually everyone.  Yet many still think of human trafficking as an issue affecting only other people, in other countries.  The truth is it affects you; it affects us all.

Victims of trafficking may have helped produce the newest smartphones we buy, the make-up we wear, and the food we eat.  They might even work at the stores where we shop, or have built those places.  In fact, there is little we can buy with total confidence that no workers were held in compelled service.

Victims of human trafficking, whether of sex trafficking or forced labor, come from a variety of backgrounds and their stories often begin with aspirations for a better life and a lack of options to fulfill them.  Traffickers exploit this reality.  In particular, people seeking employment opportunities – at home or abroad – face the risk of fraudulent and abusive recruitment that can lead to human trafficking.  In such cases, they find that they are unable to leave jobs in mines, factories, and agricultural fields, on construction sites and fishing boats, or escape the commercial sex trade, which often flourishes alongside these industries.

The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, released by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on July 27, 2015, highlights these risks and the actions governments, businesses, and consumers can take to combat human trafficking.  Each of us can make a difference.

Governments must continue to combat human trafficking in all its forms through strong law enforcement efforts and effective victim protections, as well as with policies to prevent trafficking, including in their own supply chains.  A government can lead by example.  But in order to do so, the government must provide its anti-trafficking units the resources necessary to accomplish their tasks.  A whole-of-government approach involving all relevant government agencies, as well as civil society, enables progress.  Care and support for those exploited by trafficking is also critical.

The private sector also has a real opportunity to lead on this issue.  Businesses can create anti-trafficking policies and map their supply chains down to the level of raw materials to identify gaps in transparency and vulnerabilities; they can address the trafficking-related risks in their operations; and they can balance economic growth with anti-trafficking efforts so the freedom, well-being, and dignity of workers throughout the supply chain is not sacrificed for higher profits.  The private sector can also utilize its influence by demanding anti-trafficking policies in the supply chain to prevent unfair advantage gained through trafficked labor.

Individuals have an important role to play in the fight against human trafficking in supply chains, too.  By using consumer awareness tools like SlaveryFootprint.org, individuals can better understand how human trafficking affects their daily purchases and can leverage their buying power to demand that companies take steps to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.  Individuals can also put pressure on their governments to adopt policies that protect workers and ensure accountability and transparency in their procurement practices.

Ensuring supply chains are free from human trafficking will take increased attention, resources, and collaboration among governments, the private sector, and individual consumers.  By leveraging the strengths of different actors, the global market can become a place where innovation and growth thrive alongside a workforce free from coercion.  Together, we can put an end to modern slavery.