Friend of Free the Slaves, journalist Christa Hillstrom (who is also the founder and editor of Human Goods, a magazine-style blog on modern day slavery) has just published an article on supply chain slavery. She focuses on the recent passage of California’s SB 675, otherwise known as the California Supply Chain Transparency Act, which requires California businesses to disclose what they are doing to eradicate slavery in their supply chains.
Here is Christa Hillstrom’s report (via Yes! Magazine):
Slavery Goes Public: Are the products you buy tainted by slavery and child labor? A new California law can help you find out.
Chances are, they’re in your pockets, your closet, and even your body.
From cotton to coltan, materials tainted by slavery and child labor flow through opaque, fragmented supply chains to end up, often without our knowledge, in the products we buy. It’s a global reality that has received little mainstream scrutiny, but a new California law may herald a changing national attitude towards holding corporations accountable for the materials they use.
This week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California’s Supply Chain Transparency Act. The law, sponsored by state Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), requires companies operating in California and making more than $100 million in annual revenue to publicly report on voluntary efforts to monitor their direct supply chains in order to eliminate exploitation.
The use of slave and child labor is common in the mines and fields where resources are obtained as well as in the factories where they’re manufactured. The International Labor Organization reports a staggering 200 million children at work worldwide, while global estimates of people in slavery are as high as 27 million. But in a market that rewards the companies selling the cheapest goods, reform has been sluggish at best.
Corporations that benefit from underpaid or slave labor, including that of children, have also long enjoyed the benefits of plausible deniability—essentially, shoulder-shrugging—when human rights violations occur on their watch. When child labor is discovered in sweatshops at the lowest rung of production at companies like Nike, Apple, Firestone, or Abercrombie, those suppliers are reprimanded and sometimes put out of business. But the companies themselves, which contract for the mining, sewing, and harvesting involved in getting their products on the shelves, often pay little or no penalty.
California’s new legislation could change that. Well, sort of.
While some corporations have voluntarily published official statements on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for years, this law requires businesses with substantial profits to use a fraction of that money to report on strategies for tracking and responding to slavery in the work they commission. If they don’t have a strategy, they must report that too. And that doesn’t look good.