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Modern Slavery Will Continue if Corporations Keep Passing the Buck

Author: Mark P. Lagon, Centennial Fellow and Distinguished Senior Scholar, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service
June 27, 2014
The Guardian


The Guardian's painstaking investigation into the Thai seafood sector and the US state department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report have offered arresting revelations in recent days. Not only have shrimp supply chains worldwide proved to be tainted by forced labour on Thai vessels and on soil. These reports show how businesses of all kinds are sullied by slavery – yielding $150bn in profit each year, according to the International Labour Organisation.

The reports pierce several myths. Many believe that workers who knowingly migrate without papers cannot possibly be victims. But traffickers' force, fraud, and coercion can make them just that.

Some people, conversely, assume that only undocumented migrants can be victims of human trafficking. But many legal guest workers are put so deeply into debt by recruiters, robbed of their autonomy and subjected to such harsh work that they become veritable slaves.

Many people suppose that most trafficking is for sexual exploitation (as in Thailand's own sex trade). Yet 68% of victims are exploited for labour – like in the violent seafood-processing facility in Samut Sakhon that several young Burmese women in a Thai shelter vividly described to me when I was the US anti-trafficking envoy.

And many executives assume that tracing labour conditions in their supply chains is futile and prohibitively costly. Yet if the Guardian can do it, the business community surely can – and must.

To abolish today's slavery, businesses must actively be part of the solution. Philanthropy to worthy anti-trafficking organisations is not as important as businesses living by the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath – at least do no harm.

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