Shocked and overwhelmed: this is probably how you feel when reading about the huge dimensions and the many forms of modern-day slavery in the world. 21 million women, men and children are trapped in slavery worldwide; 4.5 million are victims of sexual exploitation. Trafficking in human beings is a USD 32 billion-profit crime industry – the most lucrative and fastest-growing criminal activity after weapons and drugs. 95% of victims experience some form of violence. Statistics, reports and strategy documents at the international and regional levels provide us with facts and figures.
Although touching on the tip of the iceberg, there is increasing public awareness of this global emergency through public campaigns, education tools and training. The problem is, however, so huge and distressing that we may feel powerless and think that there is hardly any scope for an individual response. Is it really so? Or is there something we can do – in our everyday lives, in one or more of our multiple roles in society – as parents, friends, educators, customers, buyers, professionals, organizational leaders. This is the question on which I wish to focus.
No ready-made recipe, I wish to share with you a few examples given at an insightful session on trafficking held during the Women’s Forum in Deauville (see infographic: tools for business).
Human trafficking is a criminal activity: human beings, mostly women and children, are traded as if they were commodities, and illicit profits are made by violating their fundamental rights to dignity, integrity and freedom. As in any form of trade, behind human trafficking there are specific mechanisms: there is a demand and supply cycle. To end human trafficking it is essential to look at both sides, and to look for total transparency in the supply chain.
“Business can be a force for good”, says Christopher Davis, Director of Campaigns and CSR at Body Shop International. He explained to the audience in Deauville how his company looked at the supply chain and was able to campaign across its stores worldwide to inform and mobilize customers against trafficking for sexual exploitation, in partnership with ECPAT International. “We buy products directly from communities. The closer you are to the supply chain, the more you understand it and the more you are able to take action.” Their campaigns achieved remarkable results: seven million customers subscribed to online petitions to alert their governments, and convinced 24 states to make changes to their legislation
Another inspiring success story is the Fair Food campaign against modern-day slavery in the US agricultural industry, which was shared by Laura Safer Espinoza, currently Director of the Fair Food Standards Council, in charge of monitoring Florida’s $ 620 million tomato industry for compliance with the Fair Food Programme.
Laura Safer Espinoza was a Supreme Court Judge of New York State when in 2006 she started following the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a worker-based human rights organization, in its legal battle to improve working conditions: there were 1,200 instances of human slavery since 1997, and seven successful prosecutions in Florida. “Slavery is not a figure of speech. We’re talking about people who are held against their will, raped, beaten, and even shot if they try to escape. This has been happening in the agricultural industry in southern Florida,” said Laura Safer Espinoza.
CIW’s 15-year-long battle ended in 2010 with a landmark labour agreement: the Fair Food Program was adopted by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which accounts for 90 percent of the state’s tomato farms. This program guarantees farm workers, mostly Mexican and Guatemalan labourers, an extra cent per pound of tomatoes they harvest, which makes “the difference between hunger and possibly not hunger“, as well as more humane working conditions, including conflict-solving mechanisms. 40 farms participate in the program, that may employ up to 80,000 workers a year. This achievement has triggered a real transformation in the tomato growing industry, inciting people to report abuses and growers to react rapidly in order to correct the situation. Ten major retailers, including McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Sodexho, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, have joined the Fair Food Program. The power of fair competition!
There has been an increasing focus on the business community as a strategic partner to stop the criminal trade of human beings, with associations like Stop Human Trafficking Now, and the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking (gBCAT). A code of conduct, the “Athens Ethical Principles”, adopted in 2006, focuses on key areas such as zero tolerance towards human trafficking, especially of women and children for sexual exploitation; prevention through awareness-raising campaigns and education; a corporate strategy for an anti-trafficking policy; ensuring staff compliance with the anti-trafficking policy; encouraging business partners, including suppliers, to apply ethical principles against trafficking; reporting and sharing information on best practices.
Public opinion is drawing more attention to slavery conditions in parts of the world where workers have few or no rights, have their passports confiscated, or live in unsafe conditions. Media, including social media, are contributing to focusing attention on the situation of migrant workers involved in building facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Trafficking is a global crime that requires a global, multi-stakeholder strategy involving governments, international institutions, academia, media, business and civil society (UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking).
As well-informed citizens, consumers, customers, we can play a role in fighting human trafficking and slavery, both through our individual choices and actions, and through collective initiatives and campaigns.
What is your opinion on this? Do you have any experience to share?
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