The Ending Human Trafficking in the Twenty-First Century Symposium reflects on efforts to combat human trafficking over the past two decades and explores new tools to accelerate progress at home and abroad. The full agenda is available here.
This symposium is cosponsored with the Women and Foreign Policy Program.
KRISTOF: Thank you very much. I'm Nicolas Kristof from the New York Times. I'm privileged today to engage in conversation with Guy Ryder, the director-general of the International Labour Organization, who joins us from the apparently somewhat empty ILO headquarters in Geneva. Welcome, Mr. Ryder.
RYDER: Thank you very much, Nick. Thanks.
KRISTOF: I also just want to congratulate the Council on engaging with this issue and all of you to join this symposium. And before we started, we were just talking about the degree to which the international relations agenda has expanded over the years. And, you know, when I joined the Council, the idea was we would sit around and talk about missiles and maybe trade and things like this. And now there's, I think, a much broader perception of what actually belongs on that agenda. And the recent Council report on trafficking is a reflection of that and this symposium is a reflection of that. So, Guy, maybe we can start by, can you can you tell us a little bit the ILO has been engaged in fighting forced labor for many years. So tell us a little bit about the scale and challenge of forced labor or trafficking around the world today.
RYDER: Sure. And again, thank you very much for having me in this conversation. And for having the conversation—it's a really necessary one. There is something I was going to say slightly shocking. I was going to say profoundly shocking about the fact that, you know, at this stage we're still having to have a major discussion about forced labor and human trafficking in the world given that the world has been working on the elimination of slavery in forced labor for centuries. It is, in fact, there's good reason to say that this is the oldest endeavor in international cooperation and civil society. If you look at the abolition movement, going back to the eighteenth century, my goodness, and here we are still talking about it. Well, the ILO in its 100-year history has made the elimination of forced labor one of its central endeavors. And it's interesting to see how this endeavor has changed over time. The very first ILO convention around forced labor goes back to 1930. It's almost universally ratified right now. This was about really forced labor in colonial settings in what we politely call non-metropolitan territories and how colonial regions dealt with forced labor. And then there was a second convention adopted in the ‘50s, which was much more an instrument of the Cold War. It was about how forced labor should not be imposed for political reasons in terms of prison labor, etcetera.
And more recently, we've adopted a protocol very recently in 2014. We're looking at the international dimensions of forced labor is where trafficking comes in. In my mind, trafficking has an implication of movement of transfers of victims either across national borders or within national territories. So you see, it's somewhat an unfortunate phrase to use in our current times. I see forced labor as a virus which mutates and takes on different forms and doesn't lose in virulence in the process.
So what can I tell you today, Nick, that there are by our estimations twenty-five million victims of forced labor in the world? That's an estimation we made in 2016. If you add on the victims of forced marriage, you've had another sort of fifteen million on to that. It takes you up to forty million. That aggregate is what we call modern slavery. So that's the extent of the problem. What I think the Council report, which you've referred to, and I want to congratulate the Council upon does very, very well, is to say, “Look, forced labor is clearly an awful abuse of human rights and have any concept of how we want our labor markets to be organized.” But it's also got security implications. The sorts of things that you say the Council likes to talk about, and it has economic implications as well. And I think you have to look at the full complexities of the phenomenon that we're dealing with to work out how we should best respond.
KRISTOF: You noted that, indeed, it was actually Britain, your country, that in the 1780s really changed the world by beginning of global abolitionist movement. And the term that I use, that others tend to use, is modern slavery. The ILO figure for that is about forty million worldwide. I guess I wonder whether—I mean, one of the tradeoffs that I face as a writer is I want to get people's attention. I want to shake them up. I want them to understand how evil this is. And so I tend to use that word modern slavery which galvanizes your response.
On the other hand, I do worry that I sometimes turn people off and that the ILO turns people off by seeming to engage in hyperbole and that, you know, particularly if you think about those fifty million people who are married underaged, you know, is that really comparable to what classical slavery was? So how do we, you know, is it fair to talk about modern slavery? How do we think about this?
RYDER: Yes, well, I have to say, sort of in defense in light of what you've just said, we historically have always limited our discourse in our activity to what we probably call forced labor, which is very much exploitative work conditions. The point is made and when the UN adopted its 2030 agenda, it brought in the notion of modern slavery. That did import, if you like, the notion of forced marriage. And of course, as a Council report mentions as well, you can look at trafficking for the human organs and other types of abuse and amalgamate them. Now, I think, I'm not quite sure if it's about hyperbole, which is our enemy in this fight. I wonder if it's clarity and clarity in the vocabulary. Now we know what we're talking about. The common denominator, at least in the ILO’s way of looking at these issues, is coercion—people being made to work in absence of freedom, absence of choice. And if you want to really, as you do as a journalist, shake people up and get their attention, you only have to zoom in and look at what is behind these different varieties of forced labor. And there is an enormous diversity of forced labor. Let's not forget that about half of victims of forced labor are in debt. They're in debt bondage of one type or another. This could be centuries old, you know, you go to the Indian subcontinent.
Now, intergenerational indebtedness, that means people are born into these coercive situations. There, I think the notion of slavery is probably apt. And more modern forms of indebtedness where, you know, workers are being promised jobs in a different country but they have to pay an awful lot of money to get that job. And they go to another country, their terms and conditions are not what they expected, and they spend the next decade or more trying to work their way out of debt. They never expected to be in that situation. That is deceptive. And then there's another type of forced labor. Just consider that man or that woman, often a woman, let's be honest, working in a global supply chain sewing garments in some country in Asia, and they're told, with no ability to dissent, that they're going to have to work an extra four or five hours at night nevermind the kids at home. They have to do it because an order just come in, the doors are locked, get working. And when you produce the necessary order you can go home, paid or unpaid. That is also forced labor. So when you zoom in, you get a real feel for the complexities but also the human suffering that is engaged in all of this.
KRISTOF: Yes, you know, I would endorse that. You know, you can't visit a brick kiln and India where kids are destined to work all their lives without seeing that as a modern form of slavery. You can’t visit a brothel in Cambodia or Pakistan where girls are locked up and in some cases until they die of AIDS without thinking this is modern slavery or, you know, people stuck on fishing boats unpaid for years. And so, you know, I'm with you on that.
Now, there has indeed been growing awareness of forced labor and trafficking over the years. There has been important legislation here in the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and the international reports that have emerged from that, you know, have made some difference. So does it feel as if you and then ILO and more broadly the world is chipping away at this problem or whether larger economic forces and greater mobility are expanding it despite our efforts to tackle it?
RYDER: Both of those things are true. I think, firstly, that I do think there is greater political awareness, political commitment, to act against false labor and slavery. To its great credit, the United States, and I think this applies between administrations, it might apply with greater force to some administration's than others and we have enormous hopes of the Biden administration. But the U.S. has been pretty much in the lead in all of these things. So I do see an upsurge in interest in political commitment. In my own country in the UK, we adopted a modern slavery act, you know, about seven or eight years ago now. And the prime minister shocked the UK by saying there are thirteen million slaves in the United Kingdom. And people said, “My goodness, how is that possible?” And we're seeing across Europe, in any case, you know, a whole series of pieces of legislation designed and here, I think, is a key to the question, designed to work out how we get to the roots of the increasingly complex processes of coercion and trafficking to which people are involved.
Let's be honest, this situation has become massively more complicated to understand and to address. If we were having this conversation, I guess, fifty years ago, we would have been talking about state-sponsored forced laborers. Those repressive governments, who, as a matter of state policy, subjected their people to forced labor in all sorts of settings be it in the Cold War setting, be it in Myanmar, which is probably the biggest example of recent years and where we have to fear that very strong forward movement is going backwards now. But it would have been a state problem. It would have been what do we do with governments that sanction and encourage forced labor? Difficult things to solve but not difficult to understand, let me put it that way?
Now, we know today that of the twenty-five million forced laborers in the world, about twenty-one million are subject to forced labor imposed by private actors. Who are those private actors? How do you identify them? How do you hold them to account? How do you, where necessary, put them in prison and stop them doing what they're doing? That is a much more complicated proposition and involves, I think, a much more sophisticated discussion of the type that the Council report very helpfully puts before us about how private actors need to be involved and held accountable and how governments have to continue to exercise their responsibilities. So, and of course, the traffickers and the forced-labor exploiters are becoming more sophisticated. And we know all of the broader issues around organized crime in the world. And these things are intimately connected without going to the non-state actors who are engaged in other political agenda. So I think that, yes, we're seeing an increase in consciousness and mobilization to solve the problem, but I think we're dealing with a much more sophisticated and difficult enemy that we have to overcome. So who's going to win that battle, but the battle is getting, I would say, no, bigger, the stakes are getting higher.
KRISTOF: I think the point you make about the private-sector role is enormously important. Of course, those private-sector abuses happen in part because of complicity or obliviousness on the part of governments, which we can influence. I was once at a border crossing on the India-Nepal border. And it was a kind of remote crossing in Bihar. And there were these girls, young girls crossing from being bussed in by traffickers from Nepal headed for the brothels of Mumbai and Calcutta. And there happened to be a Special Branch police officer who was there at this crossing, and he was delighted to see me as a foreigner. We were chatting and I asked, “Oh, you know, what are you doing here?” And he said, “Oh, because of pressure from Washington, the Special Branch had posted him there to look out for terrorists or for pirated DVDs.” And I asked, “Well, what about all these, you know, all these girls who were being smuggled to the brothels,” and it was not a priority. And so he wasn't interfering with that while he was looking after pirated DVDs. And, you know, it did it does strike me that we can make those police officers as conscious of human trafficking as they are about pirated DVDs.
RYDER: You know, I've got a similar story to tell about Nepal. Sitting and talking to a young man who was actually at a well-organized, they call them migrant workers’ center, who had been basically processed to go and work in Qatar through official channels. You couldn’t say he was being trafficked. You couldn't say that there was an illicit or a covert operation. But I said to him, “Do you know what you're going to?” And he said, “Well, I've got a vague idea. I have friends who are in Qatar already.” And I said, “Well, what did they tell you about it?” And he said, “Well, what they told me was, even if you're starving to death, don't come here.” And he said, “But I'm still going. I'm still going.” Because he didn't really believe it could be so tough when he saw this as an adventure. And he had absolutely no prospects at home in Katmandu.
So this is quite a dramatic process, and I think it prints out a point that we need to understand. We've got to attack forced labor from all sorts of angles. And one, and this is a great example of it, is recruitment processes. I mean, people have to be, we have to be confident that people who are recruiting workers, often on completely fallacious terms and conditions, we have to get into the serious process of regulating how these people operate. And that does bring us into the broader issue, which you've raised of the role and responsibilities of the private sector. I mean, I have yet to meet in my substantial number of years working in area any employer who would justify or approve forced labor. They don't do that; nobody would do that. And yet, willingly or unwillingly, and I would say in the vast majority of cases unwillingly, we know that private actors do get involved in forced labor and that they do profit from it. The profits are big, $150 billion according to our estimates.
So the question is, what can we reasonably expect of private actors in the fight against forced labor? And I think the fact that the UN has worked out the [inaudible] principles of business and human rights is a really good starting point for differentiating what it is we expect governments or state to do and where the responsibilities of business in the private sector come in. And if you can sort of conjugate those two roles, then you're going somewhere, then you're going somewhere. But I'm not sure we always managed to do it.
KRISTOF: Your example from Nepal sort of underscores the importance of the push factors that drive people to listen to the recruiters. And I must say, it strikes me that the Western impulse to address some of these abuses has often been with regulation and to encourage countries to pass national regulations. And, you know, indeed, that's important, but I wonder if we haven't done enough to address the push factors. And, for example, it seems to me that the laws against child labor have done less to reduce child labor than have various, you know, school-feeding programs or programs like Bolsa in Brazil or Oportunidades in Mexico that created incentives for parents to keep kids in school. So I wonder if we should, you know, do more to complement the regulatory approach with these incentives than efforts to invest in well-being?
RYDER: I think it's a key point, Nick. I think one thing we've learned we're sort of segueing into child labor rather than forced labor, but I think similar considerations really apply. We've learned in the fight against child labor where we've had big successes. We brought down child labor by one-third since the beginning of this century. What does it take? Well, it takes the right laws and labor inspection and enforcement. That's clear, but it won't be enough on its own. It clearly won't be enough on its own. We learned that the most powerful factors of progress are access to affordable education and quality education. It makes sense to have your kids do something other than working. Social protection systems and income support, availability of decent work opportunities for parents, and also community buy-in, the notion that, you know, this village or this area—the local chiefs will not tolerate this sort of thing. So you do have to address those push factors. And I think that makes our current circumstances a little bit worrying because given what COVID-19 has done to the world of work over the last year and a half or so, we know there's been a big uptick in poverty, working poverty, so less people working are still in poverty. We reckon it has gone up by just over a hundred million in 2020. That places people in conditions of great vulnerability to forced labor and child labor abuse, and it means, I fear, that numbers are going up right now. We know that child labor for the first time this century is going up, not down. And although I haven't got figures to offer you on forced labor, intuitively, one suspects that we're on the same upward rather than downward path, and that is what is immensely worrying.
KRISTOF: So, let me just follow up on that in terms of COVID. So, just to clarify, COVID has clearly increased poverty-increased need. We have seen a measurable increase in child poverty. And we believe that there is an increase in forced labor, but we don't have data to support that. Is that kind of where we stand?
RYDER: That's exactly right. We'll be bringing out new forced labor estimates next year. I think but for the moment if you make an intuitive sort of analogy from forced labor, from what we know about child labor, this is what one would suspect. And I think there's one other big word that we have to introduce into this conversation, which, you know, we wouldn't get the right picture if we didn't talk about it. This is about informality, the fact that the majority of working people in the world, working conditions have complete informality where regulation doesn't apply. You can have the best laws in the world, it doesn't apply. Two billion people working in conditions of informality. And, of course, these are the reservoirs of working poverty and vulnerability. So, yes, this is where we stand.
KRISTOF: The COVID pandemic we hope will ease worldwide. The climate change challenge will not ease and may be exacerbated. And presumably that is driving climate refugees, driving poverty, driving drought in some areas. Are you concerned that climate change will have similar kinds of impacts on a more sustained basis than the COVID pandemic?
RYDER: Absolutely. And I know that you're speaking from tropical Oregon at the moment, so this issue is very much on your mind. There's no doubt about it. And, you know, as we deal with all sorts of issues, COVID-19 amongst them, I think we have to understand, and it's increasingly understood in the world of work, that the existential threat to us all and certainly to a healthy labor market is climate change. It is going to make human activity, the agricultural cultivation, or other forms of work impossible. It is going to lead to massive displacement of people. It is already leading to that displacement. And this disruption is simply going to be on a scale and of a nature that I think few of us can really comprehend. And it's happening now. And it's going to require because, you know, if we believe this climate change is a result of human activity, which is a basic scientific proposition, most of that activity is work or work related.
So we have to reboot the way we produce and the way we consume in order to basically work on climate change at source. And I'm afraid that this is going to be difficult. No, climate change has a very, very strong social component where we’re unequally exposed to the effects of climate change. But the way people make their living is also intimately linked to climate change in a very unequal way. So the biggest structural changes ahead, and it's great that the U.S. seems to be getting on the bandwagon now, the biggest structural changes ahead is how we adjust the way we work to saving the planet. It's as simple as that. It is a bit of hyperbole, but I think that's what it comes down to.
KRISTOF: We discussed the exploitation by the private sector. There is also, of course, the challenge of the private sector in the UK and the U.S. who are manufacturing products or using imported products or raw materials. And so, you know, when I talk to companies about fish, for example, you know, they insist that it's just so difficult to know whether a fish has been, you know, harvested using forced labor or not, or whether, you know, they buy cotton from a company in Guangdong, but whether that originated earlier from some kind of a labor camp in Xinjiang, you know, they just say they can't verify. So, how true is that? I mean, there's obviously in their interest to say that and are there more things they can do to really verify and nail down their supply chains?
RYDER: I think this is a really, really key debate of the moment because I think, with the business and human rights principles, which are now, I think, very broadly accepted as being the right template to address these issues through, you know, we have this notion that businesses, private enterprises should exercise—and the buzzword is due diligence—that their activities do not contribute to or are complicit with human rights abuse. So we have, I think, broad acceptance. It would be interesting to see what the views in his meeting might be that companies, yes, accept the responsibility of doing due diligence in their supply chains. But, and this is where I go to your question, Nick, it is difficult at the moment to find a uniform, broadly accepted definition of what due diligence consists of. Does this go to the first tier of suppliers? Does it go to the second tier of suppliers? Does it go all the way down the supply chain? And let's be honest, the further up the supply chain you go, the greater the danger is of finding something unacceptable. And I, like you, hear some companies say this is beyond our capacity. This is not reasonable. These are issues for which the home country government are responsible. It's about national capacities. Talk to them. And we haven't got, I think, consistency or a conceptual understanding of what the limits and extent of due diligence really are.
And I hear companies, some companies, and I won't mention them by name say, you know, with Google satellites, with the right type of imagery, we know everything that's going on in our supply chains, others and fishing is good example, say, “Well, that's impossible.” So inconsistency, and this is leading to a key debate about whether it is appropriate or sufficient today, to say that due diligence must remain a purely voluntary act. That is to say something which private enterprises accept responsibility for but exercise in their own understanding of what their reasonable responsibilities can be. That's one way of looking at it.
The other is mandated due diligence. That is to say government step in and basically require, mandate certain types of behavior by companies, and the Council report goes to these issues. Some of the early mandated due diligence legislation is purely about transparency, that companies just have to say what they are doing about forced labor in their annual reports. In the UK the Modern Slavery Act is a great example. Companies over a certain size have to publish what they're doing to eliminate false labor. And it is perfectly compliant with the law to say, “we are doing nothing.” It's just the transparency of letting society and the consumer know. Increasingly, we're seeing something more than that and developments in Europe, European Union legislation in the making, legislation that went through the Bundesrat in Germany last week are actually saying in a much more clear way not that you have to report on what you're doing, you have to do this, this, this and this. And in my organization, this is still a debate, which is open. There are quite widely divergent views about what the right dispensation should be. But I think this is really, if you like, at the cutting edge of this state-private sector reconciliation or conjugation of effort that can move us forward.
KRISTOF: I would just argue for mandatory efforts partly simply on the basis that there is a certain expense involved. We shouldn't punish companies that if we don't make it mandatory then we place companies that do the right thing at a competitive disadvantage, which is one consideration. I do want to come in a moment to questions and so please, you know, raise your hand if you'd like to ask Guy Ryder a question. One question before we do, so aside from the obligations of private companies, we also have ethical obligations as consumers. I think we're both wearing shirts with some cotton in it. When we buy cotton shirts how do we as consumers know that that is not a product of forced labor? When I buy tuna, you probably buy tuna, how do we know that that can of tuna in the supermarket, you know, with all these rants how do we choose a brand that is not going to be taking tuna from a fishing boat that has some Rohingya who's been locked on that boat for the last six years? What do we do as consumers?
RYDER: Yes, I wish there was a short and good answer to your question that isn't, there truly isn't. I mean thirty years ago now in this organization there was a discussion about trying to introduce and promote a social label in garments in particular, I guess it could go on the tins of tuna as well, to say that somebody, the ILO, or somebody can certify that this good is free of child labor, forced labor, and other abuses. And, you know, it sort of builds on the historic union label experience of the United States, you'll be familiar with that. It's never happened.
Now, there are, of course, private initiatives going in this direction. The question is, you know, verification and how much confidence can one have that, you know, something on a tin or something on a garment which tells you that this product has been produced in acceptable conditions can be relied upon. We haven't got anything like, I think, any international standard to date that could give a consumer that type of confidence. Of course, different companies have, I think, different degrees of credibility due to their own internal processes, their own internal due diligence, some of which I can make a judgment about and think, well, that company is pretty reliable. I think I can trust that one. I'm not so sure about the other one. But I think for the average woman or man down the supermarket or down the clothing store, this is difficult. Still, this is really, really difficult. And I think we're some way away from providing the type of reliable information. I mean, think of anything sourced in China. How are you going to make this apply to such circumstances or other countries, indeed? So, yes, I think it's great that consumer pressure and consumer expectations become a lever and a point of traction in this discussion, but I'm not sure the consumer has all the instruments at hand that can make this work as reliably and as well as we would like.
KRISTOF: Well, I'd like to broaden the conversation now and share Mr. Ryder with all of you. So, let me turn this over to Kayla, who will call on people to ask questions.
STAFF: We'll take the first question from Mark Lagon.
Q: Thank you very much. And we really all of us appreciate your leadership, Mr. Director-General. I want to ask about a couple of issues that I raised in the dialogue with the study group that informed this report. One is, do we need to think more about small and medium enterprises that have a problem of human trafficking in their sourcing, in their migrant labor? And should, you know, the major multinational companies not just push down the legal responsibility but really help them? And then secondly, I speak as the former U.S. ambassador to combat human trafficking, isn't the moral priority to help the survivor and is job training and placement in another job the true way to help someone reclaim their dignity? These are two things that the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking I've been involved in have been taking out.
RYDER: Shall I respond immediately? I guess that's the way to proceed. Look, I think that the whole question of our expectations of small- and medium-sized enterprises is crucial. And no, it's not an issue which has gone ignored, particularly in the business and human rights space. I think you could probably argue, and people do argue, that well-intentioned small- and medium-sized enterprises simply did not have the wherewithal to comply with all the due diligence expectations that one would want large multinationals to deal with and that's a fair enough point. On the other hand, small- and medium-sized enterprises are eminently well placed to know what they're up to, what they're doing, what their own processes are. And there's no reason, I think, why the expectation in material terms that the practices, the labor practices in a small- and medium-sized enterprise should be significantly different from the standards of practice of large enterprises.
But we know that small enterprises and large multinationals are often intimately linked or inextricably linked, let me say, along quite extended supply chains. So how does that relationship work? And I think what the Business and Human Rights Working Group is doing is saying that there is an enormous potential for the big companies, for the multinationals who source with the small- and medium-sized enterprises to act as mentors, as vectors of good practice, and I really think this is the way to move forward. I don't think it's probably the best way forward simply to, you know, to point the finger in sort of, in a more than necessarily accusing way of small- and medium-sized enterprises. If they're in a supply chain, if larger companies are buying from them, it seems to me that the larger companies can play a very helpful mentoring act, but at the same time require that SMEs begin to raise their game and to meet the types of expectations that that consumer in the consumer country would have of them. So, yes, there are real issues here, but I think there are real potential and real vectors for progress that we need to exploit. And this notion of mentoring and partnership strikes me as being very, very important.
The moral priority, if I caught the phrase correctly, I think, focuses something on our minds on something, which is very, very important. And in the most recent ILO instrument, the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, we reflect this. We really have to look not only at prevention, but we have to look at the victims. We have to look at access to justice for victims and then to rehabilitate. What happens to the victim? And I think there are two things here. One is all too often, unfortunately, the treatment of a victim can be unhelpfully linked with the migration status of that [inaudible]. I think you know that if you are, you know, if you're dealing with somebody who is not documented in a certain country, the way that victim is dealt with can be highly problematic in several respects. And I think we have to untangle and work out how migration disciplines stand next to rehabilitation and protection of victims. I think that's one thing to say.
And the other thing to say is, and to answer the question, I do believe that freeing a worker from a situation of coercion and often very extreme exploitation with all of the human damage that that implies, that's got to be done. But I do think finding a place for that person in the world of work, in labor markets, which meets the basic standards of decency and all the things that we all stand for, I do believe this matters a great deal. I do believe it matters a great deal because in the end the prospects for that person to remain free of abuse or free of the sometimes-appalling consequences the treatment that they have received depends, I think, very heavily on their ability to make a living in decent conditions and make a life for themselves and their families. So, I'm pleased that the treatment of victims is attracting a lot more attention and perhaps it used to do in previous decades.
KRISTOF: Thank you. Kayla, can we the next question?
STAFF: We’ll take the next question from Chloe Breyer.
Q: Greetings, thank you so much. I am involved in interfaith work, and it's coming to our attention here in the New York area that at least one temple out in New Jersey that was there was a federal lawsuit filed against them for having a hundred fifty workers who came to help build the temple from India and came in on R-1 visas, which is you know is for religious workers. That case is underway right now in the United States. I just wonder how many and what kind of consideration is being given to people who labor to create faith institutions around the world and what seems like a somewhat unique situation? So I'm just wondering if you could comment.
RYDER: Well, I'm not familiar with that situation. I have to say that it's not a situation which I've had to deal with either but to just sort of extrapolate from it a little bit, I mean, we do know that private actors but also states as well often active in moving on a contractual basis large numbers of workers to work in another country. I think of the export of labor by North Korea in the past to work in conditions of coercion and exploitation in other countries, and it's a matter of state-sanctioned policy. And, yes, I think that these are very, very awful situations, but I think they lend themselves to the same types of responses, the same type of action that we've replied that we've mentioned in respect to other forms of forced labor. But the example you give is yet one more example of the diversity, the stunningly diverse sort of variety of situations that we have to deal with under this generic heading of forced labor and modern slavery and trafficking.
KRISTOF: Can I just follow up on that? We haven't talked a lot about accountability. And, you know, at the end of the day, whether it's a temple or whether it's just any random construction company, it will be more profitable, it will be less expensive if it brings people in and exploits them. And this is a common problem in agriculture and in construction and all kinds of sectors. Likewise, if you're a fishing boat captain then it is going to be more profitable for you if you cheat people and lock them up on your boat. So it seems to me that fundamentally to disrupt that business model, you know, we have to make it less profitable for them or more dangerous for them. So, you know, actually send some people to jail, take their boats, sue the companies, create real consequences for those engaged in abuses. How much progress is there in that both abroad in the countries where this happens and among, you know, major international companies that use forced laborers in the supply chains?
RYDER: Yes, I mean, this goes to the heart of the motivations for this type of activity. I think I've already mentioned our estimate of $150 billion profits from illicit forced labor activities. So the question you put is of fundamental importance. I think all the evidence is that the level of prosecution—holding people accountable—is very, very low. I mean, it's difficult to be precise with the figures but the levels of successful prosecutions besides all of the evidence we have of the extent of the abuses means that we're nowhere near where we need to be on these things. And here's a bit of a problem around this. Whose responsibility is it? In what area of policy is it a responsibility to make people accountable? And there's a bit of a joined-up government issue here it seems to me because what government services should be involved in this type of situation? Is this purely a criminal law enforcement operation, dealing with organized crime and traffickers? Is it a labor market problem and the labor inspection problem? Is it a migration issue? Do we have to look to migration services? Is it, as the Council report very compellingly argues, a matter of national security?
I guess the answer is it's all of those things, isn't it? It's all of those things. And that, I think, argues in favor of a much better approach to bringing together in a more coherent way the efforts of different government services to make people accountable. It seems to me if you leave it to one part of the system, you won't get to where you want to be. And that same problem exists at the international level. So here is the ILO, the U.S. Department of Labor, if you like, with worker and employer attachments. In Vienna we have the UN organization that deals with drugs and organized crime. We have a migration organization, and frankly, the danger of silo dwelling and not being able to join things up—and by the way, I was at UNICEF when it comes to kids and refugees and human rights—were quite dispersed. And it seems to me that we do need in the same way that we need national programs around the elimination of trafficking and forced labor that we need at the international level to conjugate our efforts. This is a [inaudible], Nick, it's not a finger-pointing operation. It is not as good as we should be putting these pieces together.
KRISTOF: One example of how accountability can make a difference. Over the years, I periodically interviewed the owner of a particular brothel in Poipet, Cambodia, and I had kind of given up on the idea that there was any real remedy because it was so profitable for her to kidnap rural girls and lock them up in a brothel. And then really, because of the trafficking reports and the pressure that put on Cambodia, the Cambodian police did not close the brothel. They began to demand more in bribes to keep it open. And that meant that it was no longer so profitable for her and she closed her brothel and turn it into a grocery store. And, you know, it's an imperfect solution, but if it disrupts business models like that, then that's, you know, that's a step forward.
RYDER: Yes. Nick, just to add to the point you are making of that $150 billion that I keep citing to you, two-thirds of that comes from sexual exploitation. The numbers of people involved are smaller, but the margins are that much greater. I mean, it’s just extraordinary. So nearly $100 billion of that $150 billion comes from sexual exploitation. And the margins, this is interesting as well, the margins of profit are much higher in the developed world than they are in the developing world. So, you know, the business case for the exploitation of forced labor and modern slavery is actually stronger in the richer countries than it is in others. So these are elements to think about, too.
KRISTOF: Kayla, can we have the next question?
STAFF: We'll take the next question from [inaudible].
Q: Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Ryder and Mr. Kristof. Mr. Ryder, you spoke eloquently and cogently about the various issues at stake. And Kristof, you always do that, Nicolas, you always do that on so many of these issues. One of the things that struck me from what Mr. Ryder was saying is how these issues go beyond one sector or one set of actors. And I'm curious, given that there are so many implications—economic, political, financial, the whole tamasha—there is also I would assume the moral set of implications that are involved in this space. And I wonder to what extent, especially this massive margin of profit that's made by sexual exploits and given that really sexual dynamics tend to be in the heart of all, to what extent ILO has thought to most institutional and moral capital in its endeavors? So far, governments, fantastic. The private sector, superb. Secular civil society organizations, fine and well. But where is ILO’s particular deliberate emphasis on the mobilization of global multireligious voices because I know that ILO has a legacy of having actually that being the first entity to create an office for an advisor on religious issues [inaudible], but at the same time it's very much population. So it doesn't even come to a quarter. So I'm curious, you know, where are your efforts today to mobilize multireligiously, globally with this incredible sector that Kristof also writes tremendously well about in many, many iterations? Where is the ILO today in that space?
RYDER: Well, I mean, it's a great question in the sense that in the end this is about moral choices. I mean, I'm sorry to bring it down but the question gives me the opportunity. The question is, at least when people are acting knowingly and in full knowledge, and we've talked about the problems of consumer information already, the fact of the matter is what we have to act upon is a readiness of people to benefit from the exploitation, the inhuman exploitation of individuals be it sexual exploitation or economic exploitation. And, you know, we have to remember that.
Now, what about the ILO’s sort of place in terms of the mobilization of faith-based moral pressures in this regard? Well, the question is absolutely right. This has been a part of our history. And if you look at the origins of the ILO, I want to give a history lesson here but it was a Catholic Church in particular that began its, you know, social doctrines, you go back to Rerum Novarum back in the 1890s. A lot of the ILO was built on this notion of a values-based approach to the value of labor. And that's been a permanent part of our work and our character for all of the years. I'm glad to answer the question that's put by saying this is still with us. It was only a week ago that Pope Francis delivered a rather stirring speech to our conference in Geneva where he reminded us, in particular, of our responsibilities. He gave a message to governments, he gave a message to business, and he gave a message to trade unions about their respective responsibilities. And his focus, as my experience has always been, is on the most disadvantaged, and most particularly, he insists on the dignity of migrant workers. This is very big with him, but also the exploitation of children and the indignities and inhumanity of forced labor.
So, I always believe, I hope it's not very old-fashioned, that it is moral indignation that will get us past supposed here. There's something very, very powerful about righteous moral indignation. Maybe it's going to be out of fashion in some political discourse and some of the political space right now, but I'm a big believer in it. And the ILO has always tried to harness and must continue to try to harness as journalists do, as civil society does, as everybody I'm sure connected in this conversation do. We have to bring that power of indignation. Just simply saying, “This is not acceptable. This we will not tolerate.” And none of us have a monopoly on that because, you know, if you go to India, if you go to the countries where, you know, a lot of the problems seem to have their origins in the developing world, that same feeling of indignation is there. It’s no different. It's just making it come to bear so that people are able to live as they would wish.
KRISTOF: That righteous indignation is how we establish global norms. Can we have the next question?
STAFF: We'll take the next question from Katherine Hagen.
Q: Thank you very much. Wonderful to hear your remarks about this issue. And Mr. Kristof, thanks for moderating so well. I was very much involved as a former ILO official myself, as you know, Guy, very concerned about the opportunities with that Protocol that was adopted in 2014 before their social partners to play a far more active role. And I can appreciate your point that implementing it on a voluntary basis is a very difficult thing, and therefore one should be looking more at a regulatory approach to this. And I liked what you were saying about the international arena on this. And I was just wondering if there's something that can be done even further than what you've mentioned in terms of moving beyond the silos into a broader international approach? And to just suggest an example, what about the WTO as a way to create a sort of a new thinking about the link between trade and labor standards, which, of course, has been an ongoing issue that has, in fact, flourished through the efforts that you've had on a number of issues. So it would be interesting if you could comment a bit about that as an aspect of the way one could do something internationally to create a real consensus.
RYDER: Yes, well, Katherine, great to hear from you again, and thanks for everything you've done in this space. And, of course, you've asked one of the key questions. When I was reading through the Council report earlier on today to get ready for this conversation, I noted the recommendation in respect to the World Trade Organization. It was one page I underlined or highlighted in a bright color for future reference. The fact of the matter is that within the international system, and I just want to recall everything I said about greater coherence and getting out of the silos more broadly, but clearly there is a massive pressure point which resides in the World Trade Organization. Now, a long time ago when the WTO was set up, there was a seminal debate about the link that should or should not be established between trade and labor standards. It was a famous Singapore Conference of the WTO, and at that point a decision was taken. It was mostly the developing and emerging countries who were behind it to say the ILO should look after labor standards, the WTO should look after trade, and never the twain shall meet. And there's been a sort of [inaudible] out there ever since as if, as I say, for those of you who know Geneva, as if a “barricade had been erected down the middle of the Rue de Lausanne and we really shouldn't talk to each other.”
Now, that's not a sensible way to look at issues of international policy coherence be it in respect of force labor, be it in respect to the environment, or anything else. And it's interesting today to see, certainly the Biden administration's views in these matters, you know, whilst the WTO is making this artificial separation as a discipline of its trade processes, two-thirds of the trade agreements negotiated in the world today at the regional, bilateral and plurilateral level, contain labor chapters. They contain labor chapters, and most of those labor chapters refer to the fundamental rights conventions of the International Labor Organization, including those relating to forced labor and child labor. So there's a little bit of a disconnect here between what's happening at the WTO and what is going on in the world.
So I think this is a debate, which is waiting to be had. I was struck by the fact that the new director-general of the World Trade Organization, her very first speech on taking office said, “If you look at the Constitution of the WTO, it's about people. It's about decent work.” And I think if you take that simple truth and put it into context, then we need to renew—without revisiting the polemics of the past—we need to renew a dialogue about how trade can better serve, obviously, to improve living standards and well-being in an equitable way around the world but also how it can serve to help us eliminate practices that everybody considers absolutely unacceptable. So, Katherine, you're pointing at a really, really important debate and one that I hope will happen not in the distant future, but in the near future. And I think there are some political dynamics out there, which lead me to believe that it's not a vain hope.
KRISTOF: Bravo to both of you on that point. Kayla, can we have another question? And given the time pressures that may be the last.
STAFF: We'll take the last question from Tereska Lynam.
Q: Thank you so much for this. So, I live between Miami, Florida, and London, England, two global capitals with huge immigrant populations and many visitors. And I suspect that a significant part of these economies is built on human trafficking. So, it's very difficult to root out and multilayered. And it's so deeply rooted that it's involved, as Chloe said, with the construction projects and in caregiving and things that are really material to what people need. And a really weird thing is that religious organizations—and you're speaking to, you know, a religion and foreign policy group here—is that religious organizations are some of the least regulated organizations in the world. So it can easily be created specifically as shells for organized crime and human trafficking. And we've spoken a lot about what political institutions can do. But what can regular people do about this? What kind of regular activist things can we do to stop human trafficking? Thank you so much for taking my question. I appreciate it.
RYDER: Yes, again, a really important question. I think I could refer back to some of the things I said. I think there is this righteous indignation that we all feel. The fact that this matters to people and they will not tolerate is a starting point, I think, in making the individual a key player in this fight. But then you've got to transmit that individual anger or that individual outrage into processes that can make a difference. And there, if you believe in participatory democracy, and I still do—I still do—then you've got to make these messages known to your political leaders. You've got to operate through democratic processes. You can operate through civil society organizations. And by the way, I think religious organizations are massively on the right side of this argument. You've got to go through organized labor to take their responsibilities. And frankly, in the investment space, I think companies need to hear the voice of shareholders and investors about what their expectations of corporate behavior are. And, yes, I mean, I think all important changes do come from the bottom up. It becomes evident that certain abuses are no longer to be tolerated in society. And that really is the way that we are able to move things forward.
The good news in all of this, and we, you know, lingered and understandably and improperly so on all of the bad news and all of the problems out there is I think there is an upsurge. I think there is an upsurge in this moral indignation that will serve us well. It's the, you know, it's the propellant of what we need to get done.
KRISTOF: Our time has flown by, but please join me in thanking Guy Ryder for his time with us today and for his work on this larger issue. And again, also, just thanks to the Council for taking on this issue. It’s not exactly a traditional foreign policy issue but one that very much belongs on the agenda, and I think the Council report and this symposium help illuminate that issue for the membership and for the country as a whole.
FOROOHAR: Okay, thanks so much Kayla. I'd like to welcome everyone to this Council on Foreign Relations meeting on the Private Sector, Global Supply Chains, and Labor Trafficking. This is actually the second session in a symposium on Ending Human Trafficking in the 21st Century. I'm Rana Foroohar, I'm an associate editor at The Financial Times, global economic analyst for CNN, and a member of the Council. I'm very pleased to be presiding over the session today. So as usual, we're going to have about a half an hour to discuss, myself and two panelists, that I'll introduce in just a moment. And then we're going to have about thirty minutes for member Q&A, and we'll queue you up and announce that when it's time.
So let me start by welcoming our two panelists. First, Anita Ramasastry, who is the Henry M. Jackson endowed professor of law and the director of sustainable international development graduate program at the University of Washington law school. She's also a member of the UN Working Group on business and human rights. Welcome, Anita. And Brent Wilton, is also with us. He's a principal at Tuhana Business and Human Rights and a former global director of workplace rights and human rights for the Coca Cola company. Welcome, Brent.
WILTON: Thank you.
FOROOHAR: Thanks for being here. So let me start by just providing a little bit of context, and for those that have already been watching, you have some of that already. But for those just joining in, the Council did a report actually on trafficking and I was really stunned by some of the headline figures—$150 billion in illicit profits from human trafficking every year, and twenty million victims. We are all somewhat aware of how this grievous human rights crisis intersects with global supply chains, but I think now in the midst of COVID, as with so many things, it's become clearer and clearer that this is a pressing issue. So I guess I'd like to start since you've both been working in this area for some time if you can help to set us in context. A little bit about the history of supply chains and trafficking, where we are now and where potentially we are going and should be going? Maybe Anita, you could start?
RAMASASTRY: Sure. Thanks so much, Rana, it's a pleasure to be here and be here with a friend and colleague, Brent, to discuss this important topic. I should just say that we go back to the 1990s, we started to see a greater focus on the problem of child labor, forced labor, and trafficking in supply chains. The U.S. Department of Labor, I just went and looked, it was 1993, when they, with an authorization from Congress, started collecting data, for example, in child labor and the worst forms of forced labor. Where are the goods coming from that the U.S. is importing and are they made with child labor? For those of you who are older, generationally, you may remember that in the 1990s, really because of the internet, we could suddenly see things that were happening around the world. We had a variety of scandals, some of them were more about working conditions, for example, with Nike, and so forth. There were the images, for example, of children sewing soccer balls. So it was sort of that first moment, we were starting to see people in the supply chain and starting to think about issues of workers' working conditions and child labor, in particular. But what I want to say is that it's only recently that we've truly started to focus on the role, for example, of the private sector and how governments transnationally actually need to deal with these issues in a variety of sectors through the supply chain.
So what I would say is that through the 90s, it percolated, then we had the 2000s, where I think there was sort of a larger movement around sex trafficking for quite some time. It's only recently, I'd say in the past five years, that we've really started to look at labor trafficking and supply chains and say, "What can we do?"
I'll stop there and pass it over to Brent. And just say that one of the reasons for this is that a parallel movement, and this is one that I focus on in addition to trafficking, is the world of business and human rights. So we've looked at the issue of corporations and their responsibilities transnationally, including through supply chains and it's that push to have companies look and see what's happening through those chains, that has led us to focus on, I think, what's seen as a very global issue of trafficking and modern slavery.
FOROOHAR: Great point. Brent, I'd like to turn it over to you and you do indeed, in your current position, but also having worked at the Coca-Cola company, you've got such a broad landscape that you've seen. I mean, I've interviewed Coke a couple of times on these topics and just the depth and breadth of that private supply chain is really, really interesting, in terms of getting a finger to the wind. So I'd love it if you could help us to understand some of the regional and geographic issues we should be paying attention to here.
WILTON: Sure. Thank you, Rana. And also, Anita, it's great to be on this call with you. And to everyone who's on the call, welcome. Anita is right. I think in terms of the understanding of this issue, it's been fairly recent. A lot of the time going back to my time with the International Organization of Employers, the sense was human trafficking is an illegal occupation that's undertaken by people outside of the formal economy, and therefore it couldn't be us. Business wasn't involved in illegal behavior, so it's not us. It's only really since 2011, with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and companies' efforts to try and get to understand their supply chain more fully, that they began to unearth very deep, often, in their supply chain, that some of the labor they're dealing with is actually being trafficked into their business, not necessarily with their knowledge, or certainly not with their acceptance, but the reality is that they are there.
The other challenge you have with regards to the human trafficking piece has been a lot of the talk in the past about this being sex trafficking, it's not about labor trafficking. But in reality, as Anita said, this is a reality in supply chains, and I would stress here, not just global supply chains, have been one of the big challenges you have with regards to this behavior is that it exists within countries and within domestic supply chains. In fact, if you read the report from Alliance 8.7, a lot of these issues are more entrenched in domestic than they are in international. But having said that, companies are doing more to try and understand this. The challenge is when you find it, what do you do about it? If you're finding people coming into your workforce at the lower levels of your supply chain who have been trafficked, how are you going to respond to that? I think the issue of remedy with regards to these issues along with remedy in a lot of the areas of human rights are still very nascent and they're still to be developed. But there was a criminality aspect, I think, was a big barrier to engagement in the past and I'm pleased to see that it's beginning to lift now.
FOROOHAR: That's interesting. Let me pick up on what you're talking about with the private sector just realizing what's happening in their supply chains. Because whilst I haven't, particularly, looked at trafficking as an issue, I've seen so many disasters in supply chains over the last twenty years. You know, we can all name a dozen of them, Rana Plaza comes to mind, some of the Boeing problems. Many of these stem from fundamental business pressures that these companies either are under or perceived to be under from the financial markets. You've got to downsize, you've got to streamline, you've got to make things more efficient, or there's this cost pressure. There are then hidden risks that aren't usually taken into full account on the balance sheet, in part because the people making the decisions are two or three steps away from whatever tragedy might be happening. Is that changing? What are the best practices around this? What can and should CEOs be thinking about when they're thinking about these risks, Anita?
RAMASASTRY: There's different ways to look at this. One is, as you're saying, within the company itself. I think the pandemic really had us look at their variety of approaches that companies had to issues like were they going to cut suppliers loose and are there going to be repercussions to workers and to others by virtue of their business practices and the need for efficiency and cost cutting. What you saw was that companies that were committed to worker welfare, including these guiding principles that Brent and I are talking about, which is really about anticipating and looking through your chain for human rights impacts and dealing with them ahead of time. That those companies were more nimble and able to move and made some more forward-thinking decisions. We're waiting to see whether that is also economically beneficial. I mean, we would argue that it is the sense that keeping your workers, keeping your chains steady, having a resilient business model is good for economies generally as we deal with a responsible recovery. JUST Capital, which is tracking companies in the United States, is looking to see and track, again, who has been more respectful of human rights during the pandemic, including issues of forced labor, and seeing, I think, at least strong performance of some of those companies. So, the business case isn't what I as a human rights expert want to make, but it's certainly something that we're looking at.
I think the other piece is who has the leverage. So what you're pointing to is financial markets, Rana, and that's where the larger issue is, you've got big investors. For a long time, we've had socially responsible investors, right? But they're very niche. Who've said, "We're going to look and invest in companies that are responsible socially, that are addressing trafficking as one indicator." But, you know, what about the BlackRocks and the much bigger institutional investors? I'm pleased to say, I mean BlackRock now has come out much more affirmatively saying that they are going to look at these issues. And in a particular case, which is of a glove manufacturer, Top Glove in Malaysia, which has made a lot of the PPE that we get, the gloves around the world. There has been a lot of issues uncovered about issues of worker conditions and debt bondage, etc. that have been brought to light and BlackRock stepped in and issued an investor alert because it was concerned. So seeing the movement of the investment community and the leverage they have, I think is going to be tremendously important to how companies react.
FOROOHAR: Let me pick up and, Brent, you can help thread this needle. You mentioned that this is not just a private sector issue, the public sector needs to be involved too. Big conversation going on way beyond trafficking, around ESG and should regulations change? Should reporting requirements change? In the U.S., for example, right now, there's a big push within the SEC to come up with real metrics around these things. Is that what we need? What else would you like to be seeing at this stage from the public sector in the U.S. and Europe or elsewhere?
WILTON: Well, I think you're right, in terms of data collection, there is a lack of it globally. There's not a good way of collecting that information from the employee community to find out exactly what the situation is. I think it's an issue of cooperation, both within governments and between governments. I mean, policy coherence within a government is still very problematic when you think about the issues which are causing some of these things to occur. Ministries aren't talking to ministries and particular policy positions being developed are not consistent.
The issue that Anita raised about the financial community, I think it's incredibly important, but it's a bit of a push-pull situation at the moment where you have some investors saying, "We want you to have the "S" in ESG top of mind." You've got others who turn around and say, "Now, at the end of the day, we want the money for the shareholders." So that's still working its way through. But I think for most companies who are out there in the big world, like the large ones, like Coca Cola and others, they are very mindful of the social footprint that they have and their desire to ensure they're doing as much as they can. Probably not everything they can, yet, because they're still uncovering things. But to do the right thing, both regards to the labor abuses that they may discover, but also with their returns to shareholders. It's a very tricky balancing act at the moment.
I think government clarity around some of those expectations, in a consistent way across governments would be very, very helpful. I was pleased to see the G7, at least in the Trade Ministers referenced the issue of human trafficking, but it never made its way into the final memorandum with the leaders. That sort of subdued messaging I don't think helps. I think the more that governments are actually engaging and speaking about this issue coherently in international organizations, at a national level, can be very helpful in helping businesses understand exactly what is required of them. What do you want us to do? And then what tools are you going to provide us with to enable us to do it effectively and efficiently?
FOROOHAR: Let me ask you one follow up question. Why do you think that that tougher statement didn't make it into the G7 communiqué?
WILTON: Because I still think the "S" in ESG isn't given the prominence it deserves. I mean, at the moment, we're facing, as we're seeing in the United States, at this moment, some very major climate issues, which are really driving a lot of people's agenda. You have the health issues around COVID. And as to your point earlier, this has been really very much a hidden activity, it's only recently that we're getting the numbers behind the actual events to show us what's going on. But I hope that in future, we can get some more of these "S's" into these statements from these leaders to show that they are giving real leadership to the communities in their business community around what is required.
FOROOHAR: You know, the "S" it's interesting because you could argue with the shift to the kind of business that we're doing now, which is digital, it's all about human capital, it's really all about people. It's no longer so much about machines, it's about people and what's inside people, their talents, their brains, their data, in some cases. You know, how, Anita, does this debate play into that? And maybe you can also talk about post-COVID, what you see as challenges and opportunities around this issue.
RAMASASTRY: I think post-COVID, and Brent talked a little bit about this in terms of just lack of coherence from policymakers, right? That trade agendas are different from human rights agendas, and sort of how you come up with that sort of holistic solution, so that's a challenge. But the pandemic meant that there were an increased or heightened risk of trafficking because of vulnerability, right, that when people were out of jobs, or in precarious situations, or lack financial resources, there is the opportunity ripe for people to actually be trafficked, and that's the larger issue.
But the opportunity, which is one that I hope resonates with everyone here is that, again, essential workers became visible to us. And so what it did was it once again reminded us both of the risk of forced labor in places far away from us. Or for me in the United States, thinking about whose making my gloves and surgical masks far away in Southeast Asia. But more importantly, and this is what Brent mentioned before, what was happening in our own backyards, and this is what's critical. So in the United States, for example, agricultural workers, there's been a long challenge around debt bondage and forced labor in that sector because of the way the visa system is set up. We saw more of it just because reporters were focusing on risk to COVID among farm workers. So I think for many people, they finally realized that the food that was being put on their table was connected to forced labor right here in the U.S. So, again, policy reforms are about supply chains, but they're not just about what's going on transnationally, they're also very much about coming up with solutions right at home and I think that's key.
FOROOHAR: Let me actually ask a really big question to both of you. I mean, there is a large shift in the U.S. right now going on about how we should think about supply chains. Brian Deese, head of the National Economic Council, just announced an entirely new industrial strategy, rethinking and making more resilient certain kinds of supply chains. Resiliency can mean a lot of things, it can mean lack of concentration or geographic diversity, but it surely also means higher labor standards, higher safety standards, higher environmental standards. How can you all get in on that conversation? I mean, where's the low-hanging fruit as some of these shifts are made, not only in the U.S. but in Europe? Europe is trying to double its domestic production of semiconductor chips, for example, in the next decade. That's a supply chain issue. What do you want to see happen? Brent, you want to go first?
WILTON: I mean, we have to be careful because there are unintended consequences to these discussions. If you're looking to build resiliency into your own national supply chains, that often means more onshoring rather than offshoring. You've got to think about what does it do to the people who are employed in the offshore industries. I mean, there's a negative connotation there as well. And not every economy is as resilient as others in dealing with these issues. I mean, you've got huge areas of large informality within the economy, where people are already outside the legal construct of what is required of normal business. And so if you exacerbate that by actually taking a nationalistic approach to supply chain management, rather than working more collaboratively around the world to try and improve the luck for everybody, then I think you have a real risk of doing the wrong thing, perhaps for the right reason, in some people's minds. But the impact on people in their human rights, could be very, very detrimental. So I get a little bit nervous when I hear about building resilience and onshoring because what about the rest of the world?
FOROOHAR: Anita, what do you think?
RAMASASTRY: I'll add to that. So when I first heard what you asked, Rana, I think that there's the resiliency and as we recover more broadly. Resilience with a kind of global lens, I think, is very appropriate and important and that's where we can talk about rewarding companies that behave ethically, as opposed to companies that engage and sort of benefit from forced labor in a way that's anti-competitive and unethical. So there are ways in which I think resiliency is a good lens.
But to the onshoring point, this is when, as an academic, I'm actually tied up in knots and I think this is a real challenge. I agree with Brent and I think here's the big challenge. We still in the world of economic development. So if we look at the Global South, if we look at countries where we have offshored, or where we're encouraging them to develop industries. We tell many of these economies, "grow your way out and grow your economy through trade." Right, that if you're in Kenya, you export flowers. And so if we're now saying that we're going to onshore, we're going to create domestic resiliency, we're going to basically keep everything local, and we're going to have a circular economy, we're going to consume less. How do we square the notion of economic growth, which has been really underpinned by this idea of trade and GDP, with this new resiliency model? So I think, to Brent's point, everything seems attractive at first, but then you look further, and you say you're going to be leaving a lot of economies behind with this paradigm.
FOROOHAR: Well, let me push you both further on that because these are excellent questions, but you really do start to bump up when you think about all the things that need to be done to achieve SDG goals. In supply chains, circular economies sound great from the environmental perspective, they also create these problems you're talking about where, hey, if you're a big country with food, fuel, and demand, great. If you're a small country that's exporting flowers, maybe not so great. How do we start to square all of these needs at a time when you know there's a lot of vested interests with many worthy goals pushing on the system in different ways? It's tricky. Where's the low-hanging fruit here? (Laughs.) Brent?
WILTON: I'm not sure there are any low-hanging fruit quite honestly.
WILTON: And I think it is a very challenging situation that we're facing. But this is where we talked about before about collaboration and cooperation and internationalism. In order to have these conversations about how to affect the change, and the improvement we all want through the ESG and the SDG endeavors that benefit everybody. I mean, if we're going to end up in a world where some benefit and others continue to lose then the long-term prescription for this world is not a very good one. And so I think it's an area where the international cooperation is important. Where large governments are actually being keen to talk to other governments about the impact of some of their policy choices, and to actually ameliorate some of those policy choices as a result of those conversations. My concern would be that economic nationalism is getting a lot of profile in many countries at the moment without, to Anita's point, working through what are the follow-up implications of that in terms of the economies that are going to be left behind? I think that's a real challenge we have now is to get those international conversations moving. They've broken down, be it for COVID, or previously, we're not as connected as we need to be to deal with these issues.
RAMASASTRY: Yeah. And the history of, again, economic nationalism, if we look back in time to sort of, the 50s, 60s, 70s, import substitution industrialization was a failed model. Not to say that there isn't a way in which domestication can be good. I think the bigger issue is, what are we saying to our partners in the development agenda, right? If we want to help them grow and be resilient, then we need to say it's got to be something different if we do want to focus on the SDGs, beyond the traditional classical trade paradigm. This is back to policy coherence, where it's just that we're still peddling that agenda in the trade and investment area, while we're talking in the UN and other places about the SDGs. So we need to think about technical assistance, donor assistance, right? Again, we are back to development assistance. What will a new, sort of, economic model look like for those countries that traditionally have been saying you need to create a comparative advantage in something and then trade your way to growth?
FOROOHAR: Let me just raise the giant white elephant, which is in the room in all these conversations, which is China. We are in a one-world, two-systems paradigm. Brent, let's say you were still at Coke, and Coke was making t-shirts instead of soda, and they were using cotton from Xinjiang. What would be your advice?
WILTON: Oh, well, of course, in those sort of instances, you need to be sourcing responsibly and correctly, and if it was coming from Xinjiang, and you were confident that the information that you're getting around the labor abuses around their collection then you'd move out. That's what companies have done. Now, in terms of a short-term solution, that's probably the right one to take. But longer term, what are you doing to the people in that environment? Now in Coca Cola when I was there, the approach was, we never cut and run. You always try and stay with your suppliers to help them work through the challenges of abuse in order to correct the behavior for long-term sustainability. But we need to be careful about the labeling either China, or whatever, because those abuses exist everywhere. They're just not as topical at the moment. That's part of the challenge. I mean, the issues in China are awful, don't get me wrong, they're terrible, but they exist elsewhere in the world as well. But they're not making the front page of the headlines anymore. They're hidden. Although, not as newsworthy because of the way in which people want to consume news at the moment.
But for me, I mean, the other challenge you have in this space, not just China, but across these issues, is migration. People are trafficked because migration is completely broken. We have not got control around that process going forward. And until we get that sorted, as well as dealing with issues like human rights in China, or anywhere else for that matter, then these problems are going to persist. It's that joined up thinking, it's that policy coherence, it's that willingness to actually be open and honest in the conversations that we have. Because at the moment, to Anita's point, I don't think our systems are designed to deal with these issues. We need to go back and look at design to make sure that we're able to have these conversations.
FOROOHAR: So it's an interesting moment to look at design, not just policy design, but utilizing technology. Decentralized technologies have so many possibilities here. So maybe, we can, before we go to member questions, maybe we could talk a little bit about - do you see some ways in which technology is helping specific companies or countries? Are there some best practices there that you could talk about? Opportunities? Anita?
RAMASASTRY: I think that's right. I mean, there have been a lot of ways in which technology - well, technology is a challenge on the one hand, right? So we're talking about particular markets, the use of technology to track, surveil, and to deal with things in a way that represses human rights is a big challenge. But on the other side, right, it is enabling worker voice. That the development and there is a whole - through actually the OSCE and others. Large numbers of aggregation of all of the different kinds of tools that have been created to deal with trafficking. How to find it, how to use geospatial location to find ships where people are located, apps where people can report things. The key thing there is intelligent design. That often the people who design apps, for example, there's one, to Brent's point about people who are being trafficked across deserts to come into the U.S. The app is not going to work in the desert, if people have a cell phone, that's not getting service. So a lot of this is about actually understanding who you're aiming the technology at? And really, what is their position that will make this useful? So I think technology has tremendous promise.
I just wanted to say one thing because, again, I think, it's all complicated and it'll always be complicated. The other field I work in is corruption and it's just we're going have that and I'm going to have a career for the rest of my life. But we want to always say that we're moving forward with progress. I'll just say on the area of labor trafficking, law enforcement and prosecution of labor trafficking is just beginning, if you look at most jurisdictions. We're very much in the early days. So we can take those steps and hold people accountable and we just haven't done it yet.
FOROOHAR: Yeah. Well, right now we're at about the thirty-minute mark, so I'd like to invite members to come in on the Q&A session. Kayla, maybe you can come in and just direct folks on how to do that.
STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.) We'll take the first question from Mark Lagon.
Q: Hi there, thank you very much. I just want to lay out two statements for you as tremendous analysts and see what you would say to them. First statement, it's very important that we address work opportunities for people so they not be pulled into trafficking, but public policy should not emphasize the development approach, but actually use things that could contribute to metrics, to seeing whether you're having an impact of the policy intervention. And then, secondly, what would you say to the statement that legislation and laws that have to do with reporting requirements and transparency are more effective than more intrusive regulation? Thank you.
RAMASASTRY: Mark, could you repeat the first one? I sort of lost you midstream.
Q: Just getting myself unmuted again. Basically, if you want to count the impact of a policy intervention is it better to look at various tools that are more easily counted than a development approach of, you know, the worthy idea of foreign assistance or investment for better work opportunities for those vulnerable to human trafficking. We have a problem in this field with metrics. So a very worthy approach, but it's not countable. As a hypothesis. Thanks.
FOROOHAR: Anita, do you want to grab that?
RAMASASTRY: Yeah. Well, on the second point, I concur with that, I think, the basis of that statement. But on the first, I would agree, and I would say that we have organizations like the Freedom Fund. We have other organizations, New Course, that are really focusing on not only root causes, but as you're saying, measuring interventions and impact at the very local level. So I think similar to other areas of development, where measuring the interventions and how effective they are, as opposed to just investments in development and assistance is certainly important. And that sort of monitoring and evaluation piece is what is being focused on now by leading anti-slavery, anti-trafficking organizations. So I think we have models out there. It sounds like from your question, you're someone who is very well versed in this and so I'd be curious to know your views. Brent?
WILTON: Yeah, thanks, Anita, and good to hear from you, Mark. I agree that what we need is better data. I think we also need to be reviewing the legislation we have at national level with regards to human trafficking and forced labor because this beast changes over time. We need to make sure that legislation and definitions keep up to speed with what's going on out there in reality. But we need data to know whether or not the interventions which are created to address this challenge are actually having an impact. And that also, I think, requires KPIs because if you're not measuring, then it's not happening, and you need transparent reporting. I think that's also very important that people are actually being told what's happening.
In terms of legislation versus due diligence. There's a mix, I think, which is needed there, and I think we're seeing developments now in that area. Let one thousand flowers bloom is not always the best way for companies to understand exactly what is the best way for them to be acting. So I think a mix of those approaches is going to be important going forward. But again, to the point that I made at the outset, this is not just about big companies, the challenge is going to be getting this data and getting these smaller companies, who are engaging in this behavior, to also change their behavior. Because, unfortunately, when you have a supply chain of a large company, you're throwing spotlights into a domestic economy, you're not lighting up the landscape. Unless we light up the landscape with the approaches that we take, we're not really going to get our arms around this because it'll simply move. We've seen that i in child labor.
RAMASASTRY: Yeah, and just back to the issue of is disclosure and transparency better than sort of interventionist regulation? I'd say that from my point of view at the UN with the Working Group, we just celebrated ten years of the guiding principles. What we've said is that disclosure and transparency, we like the concept of human rights due diligence. Having companies look for those impacts, like trafficking, and preventing, or mitigating them is the desired outcome. Transparency and disclosure alone hasn't really shifted corporate behavior. That's what our most recent report showed. Will a more mandatory approach get us there? To be seen, but I think we have said that disclosure alone has not been fruitful.
FOROOHAR: Okay. Operator, can we take the next question, please?
STAFF: We'll take the next question from Katherine Hagen.
Q: Thank you so much both of you for your very fine observations and Rana for moderating this interesting discussion. It's a follow up to the one that we had with Guy Ryder just a few minutes ago, in which he talked about the difficulty of defining "due diligence." I know that you all have embraced the idea that there needs to be clear government oversight about the way in which compliance with efforts to eliminate forced labor are being implemented. But he also pointed out the fact that "due diligence" is very difficult to define and changes from sector to sector, in ways that make it difficult to come up with a common understanding. I know, Anita, you're certainly working on this in the Working Group, but Brent too has been addressing this issue and touched on it just a few minutes ago. I was wondering if we could get a bit more discussion on how to, in fact, get a clearer understanding of what it is that due diligence entails and how to implement it.
FOROOHAR: Great question. Anita, do you want to start?
RAMASASTRY: So no, that's a great question. I think it's not so much what is due diligence, but what is adequate or appropriate due diligence depending on the nature of the business and the region, etc., and it is contextual. I think the challenge would be, as we think about regulation in the space, right? That's, I think, where when we talk about Guy Ryder and the ILO, sort of, thinking this through as the UN and others are, is what are we going to require? When you do have different sectors it's hard to prescribe a very specific process. The Guiding Principles are generalized, right? They talk about you devise a way to look through your business relationships and identify those impacts but leaves it to industries and sectors to develop those standards. I think that can be achieved and we have, over the past decade, examples of that, of industries working together. But the piece of that, that I think is most important, is really remembering why are we doing this? It's really for the rights holder, in this case, someone who may have been trafficked or forced into labor, where we want to provide them with the remedy. So due diligence is the end and the question is we want to incentivize companies through regulation, so they develop the right processes.
In the area of corruption, we just do it by saying, you're vicariously liable. If your agent pays a bribe, you're liable. You figure out processes, right? And companies do figure out the processes because the liability is there. So, Brent and I may not agree about this. But I think the larger question is going to be, do you build into the law a way in which a company, they may be responsible, if they're not properly engaging in the process to find the harm?
WILTON: Yeah, I think Anita is right and Katherine good to hear from you. I think that a one size fits all approach to due diligence is not helpful. I mean, I remember in my days, looking at particular supply chains, you'd go around doing your due diligence differently, because of the nature of what it is that you're dealing with. So a one size fits all is not great.
I think we are seeing over time, a greater need for liability around some of these issues. It will come particularly if business does not embrace the UN GPs and the work behind the UN GPs to actually get out there, do the due diligence, identify, and mitigate the harm, and give remedy to those who have been subject to abuse. Now, if that loses its focus, I think then governments will step in with a far harsher regulatory environment for business. But again, my concern is that this will be for the large companies, not the small, and I think the real challenge is how do you make due diligence? How do you make all of these issues doable at lower levels within the supply chain and less sophisticated companies? And it can be done, you just have to have a difference inherent in the way in which you approach the work. So, Katherine, I think a one size fits all is not helpful. I think it does need to be adaptable to the circumstances, the sector, the country, the abilities of people involved. Don't forget a lot of companies are not very sophisticated in the world.
FOROOHAR: Okay, next question. Operator?
STAFF: We'll take our next question from a representative of the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Please announce your name.
Q: Hi, my name is Martina Vandenberg, I'm calling from the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, DC. Thank you for an excellent panel. I want to comment and sort of push back a little bit to something that Anita said. And Anita I always agree with you except for this one time, where you said that, "We are just getting started prosecuting forced labor." We have been fighting to prosecute forced labor since Palermo and 2020. And the statistics are abysmal, there were only 939 prosecutions for forced labor in the entire world in 2019. In the United States, in 2020, the U.S. government claims that there were twelve. We count eight. There has never been an extraterritorial supply chain case brought by the federal government by federal prosecutors against any corporation or any individual for extraterritorial criminal activity involving forced labor. So my question to you is, what are we doing wrong? Because you and I both work on FCPA issues and corruption issues. What needs to change? And how can we change this? Brent, you also said we need more liability. So we have been fighting for this for twenty years and failing and so what do we need to do differently?
RAMASASTRY: And, Martina, I agree with you. So if I sounded like hopeful that there's a momentum there, I didn't mean it. So I think what I meant to say was precisely what you're saying, which is that we just haven't had the activity, right? So, agree. How do we jumpstart this? I think this is the question. I've been looking at this not just in the trafficking context but working with prosecutors globally around their failure to address transnational corporate crimes with a human rights impact, such as labor trafficking. It's been very difficult beyond sort of knowledge, capability, and resources to understand the failure to engage. I mean, it seems that even in jurisdictions, as you mentioned the United States both at the state and federal level, that this has not been a priority. Brent can jump in as well. Other than to say I'm perplexed about this. So one of the things I focus on is really focusing on prosecutors that are dealing with corruption, to try to get them to look at the intersection with trafficking as a way, perhaps, to break the logjam. But Brent over to you, and Martina maybe you have a perspective you can share back with us.
WILTON: Yeah, Anita, I agree. I think this is a real challenge. I don't want to generalize because, again, it is a many-headed beast this issue of human trafficking. But it comes back, I think, in part to resources and prioritization, I think in many instances, this is regarded as a small event within an economy. It's not. It's a large event. And people aren't getting that sort of message through in terms of the way in which politicians or even enforcement agencies talk about this.
The law often provides for inadequate penalties, that it's not even worth pursuing, because it's not going to result in anything meaningful. So I think we need to up the penalties. I think we need to up the resources that are put behind identifying these issues of human trafficking and actually get the prosecutors to understand that this should be a priority issue, like other priority issues that they deal with. Because at the moment, I agree, I think we are struggling to get the prosecutions and, as such, people who are doing the trafficking, are saying, "Well, actually, it's worth the risk." I mean, we've often found that it's best to make the penalty so severe, it's cheaper to comply than to act in breach. But at the moment, if you're a human trafficker, you get a far lighter sentence if you're caught than if you're a drug trafficker, and here you're dealing with people. So there's a disconnect going on at the moment. I hope that we actually are able to take some steps to remedy that because as long as people are getting away with this or getting away with just a slap on the hand, people will continue to do it.
FOROOHAR: Martina, do you want to add anything in or respond?
Q: So the only thing I would say, and I agree with both of you, but the only thing I would say is that a moment has come for a pivot. Although we haven't given up on criminal prosecution, we are moving much more quickly on civil litigation. So civil litigation is one answer and then also trade remedies. Because I think the blocking of goods made with forced labor from all ports of entry in the United States has been a game changer with Withhold Release Orders issued by the Customs and Border Protection. I think we need to pivot at the moment, we still have to press on prosecution, but we need to look at civil liability and also trade remedies.
FOROOHAR: Interesting. Operator is there another question?
STAFF: We don't have any other questions at this time. Oh! We actually do have one question. This is from Thomas Walsh.
Q: Thank you for a very illuminating discussion. I'm wondering if there been any efforts to identify patterns, trends, best practices associated with kind of moral, cultural infrastructure? Even that could include a faith-based analysis. Are there places, countries, practices, where these problems are diminished based on the cultural background? Or is it just across the board, it's a universal problem kind of with equivalency everywhere? Or can you see certain bright spots you can identify not only due to the legal apparatus and the political governance but some other factors? Getting at things like moral agency or that kind of thing? That's my question.
FOROOHAR: Interesting question. Anita, do you want to take that first?
RAMASASTRY: Sure. Not getting into specifics, but, Thomas, back to the point I made earlier about organizations like the Freedom Fund and others, they're investing, and even the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, investing in local contexts and working with communities to figure out what kind of interventions are useful in preventing trafficking is very much about understanding not only laws and how laws work, but how norms work to shape and influence and prevent harm. So I think the larger question is that what we're all seeing is that laws and processes, or even thinking about this as just a matter for the private sector isn't going to end these phenomena, right? That we also have to think about impacts and interventions that are very much about context. But I'll end by saying, of course, at the same time, what you're hearing from Brent and me is that when you talk about sort of transnational and global supply chains and larger companies that are working and connecting, or you talk about the G7 or G20, there's still the power of international consensus, right? That deployment of a shared vision, that this needs to end is equally important. So Brent, over to you.
WILTON: Yeah, I mean, within the Consumer Goods Forum, for example, which is some four hundred of the leading companies in the world, there's a big forced labor initiative underway at the moment to try and address that issue in a more coherent way. I think faith-both groups have a role to play and I've seen that around the world. Here in New Zealand, even, where one would think that we're all clean and green and everything's perfect. It's not. We have human trafficking; we have modern slavery. The faith-based groups here have been very strong in promoting to government a regulatory response to that. So I think that this moral imperative is growing in people's minds. We're seeing it, and Anita mentioned this, with the investor community, in terms of what they're looking for in the "S" in terms of their investment portfolios. But I still think at the moment that there's no magic bullet here, there's no shining star that we can point to and say these people have got it right. As I said earlier, the trouble with this stuff is it morphs, it changes over time. These people who are running the multibillion-dollar enterprise are smart people, unfortunately, and they change to fit within the gaps that the regulation allows. And so until we start shutting some of those doors, we're always going to be at risk of this continuing to spread, unfortunately.
RAMASASTRY: And, Rana, if I can just jump in to one last point. Which is, I think, Martina made a really important point about pivot. I think that was a great one about sort of looking at trade remedies as a new way of addressing supply chains. My being gun-shy about civil litigation, civil liability is only because in the larger area of transnational human rights litigation, you know, we just saw the Supreme Court, for example, with cases involving Nestle and Cargill, shut the door even further in terms of civil remedies. So I come from a background in business and human rights, where similar to criminal prosecution not being a viable avenue, we've seen civil remedy be very difficult. So I hope in the area of labor trafficking, that it will be a different story and more fruitful.
FOROOHAR: Okay, operator, are there any final questions? We have time for maybe one or two more?
STAFF: We have one more question from Louise Shelley.
Q: Thank you. Very interesting session. I'm Louise Shelley from George Mason University. I wanted to ask you, what complications have you seen out of the pandemic that has made many more people economically vulnerable? And how is that complicated our oversight? And will these problems continue?
FOROOHAR: Anita, do you want to take that?
RAMASASTRY: So, I'm speaking more from a very limited data pool at the moment at the UN. Where the Working Group receives communication requests to intervene from a variety of sources. What we are seeing, and this is back to Brent's point, is a larger number of people who have lost positions or jobs in a variety, again, if we think about different supply chains, so apparel, footwear, the garment sector, in particular, who had been driven into informality. And so that's for us been the larger issue of just seeing that happen. As a result, they're seeking recourse to a working group like mine, to try to get companies and governments to step in and intervene and sort of as they move from formal employment into the informal sector and that's where we sort of push and say Guiding Principles, responsible business conduct. Brent, your perspective?
WILTON: I agree with you totally, Anita. I mean, the economic circumstances is always a big driver for this sort of event and people in the COVID situation in many countries around the world who don't have the social security infrastructures that support them in anything other than the jobs they have. Our drifting through economic necessity into the informal economy and looking to be trafficked, in some instances, to just try and get some food on the table for their families. So I think the post-COVID, the build back better request that is out there now is going to have to address these issues of economic vulnerability more than ever before because they will always be targets for traffickers.
FOROOHAR: Just before we close, Brent, I want to pick up on a point you made earlier about the risk morphing and kind of risk being like water and finding the cracks, really. Where are the cracks? Going forward in the next two to five years out of this recovery, what should companies and what should public officials be watching for either in terms of geography, particular sectors, particular types of trafficking?
WILTON: I think you have to take a broad approach to all of it, Rana. I'm sorry that there's not a sort of very narrow box you can put this in. But as regulation tightens in particular countries, then traffickers will go to other countries who haven't moved in the same direction. So it's an issue of international cooperation. The issue around enforcement agencies talking more cross-border around how do you manage this? But in terms of morphing, we've seen it in forced labor, one of them is retention of passports. People don't retain passports anymore, but they hold land titles, other documentation, or jewelry, or family objects that actually constrain someone's ability to move. So that, again, this morphing goes on and on and on and will continue as we narrow the band by which these people can operate. But the lack of enforcement, I think remains a key one. If we continue to see situations where human traffickers believe that they can do this and if they're caught, they're not going to suffer much, then this is going to continue. Even if some of the laws are tightened, if the enforcement is not there, and the punishment is not there,
FOROOHAR: Indeed. Anita, if you'd like to respond to that, please do. I'm also curious if either of you see particular institutions, at the moment, as being the best convening places globally for this conversation?
WILTON: Well, I think the ILO.
RAMASASTRY: Yeah, I would agree. I mean, I think hearing from Guy Ryder today, the ILO. That they've been at us and in terms of understanding the data and the empirics, the ILO.
WILTON: And I think the IOM. Also ethical recruitment, the proper recruitment processes of people is also key to this. So again, as I said, interagency collaboration. I think we have to put institutional ego aside now, and actually recognize that each has strengths. Let's bring them to the table. Let's not try and replicate what others are doing, but bring our strengths and put together a coordinated approach to how we address this.
FOROOHAR: Okay. Well, this has been really informative. Thank you both for your time. I want to thank every—
WILTON: —Thank you.
FOROOHAR: Yeah, I want to thank everyone for joining the virtual meeting today. Just FYI, the video and transcript of today's meeting is going to be posted on the CFR website. We have a special Council Report on Ending Human Trafficking in the 21st Century. You can look in the notes here and find the link to that or on the website. This meeting is on the record. Thanks both of you for your time. Thanks to all our members for listening.
WILTON: Thank you very much.
RAMASASTRY: Thank you.