Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Wrapup: can corporations be trusted to tackle modern slavery?

Enforcement of labour protections will remain an issue, but there's still a reason to require corporate due diligence on forced labour in supply chains.

Urmila Bhoola
13 October 2016

Andy/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

This piece wraps up the BTS policy debate 'Can corporations be trusted to tackle modern slavery?'

There seems to be consensus amongst the contributors that self regulation of business on its own is not sufficient to address modern slavery and must be bolstered by strong and binding laws. Many references were made to a new binding international instrument, the possible ILO decent work in global supply chains, and the accountability gaps that exist in the current international legal framework.

The consensus is that, while a new binding treaty will address the accountability gaps, the critical challenge will be law enforcement. Currently, most national jurisdictions prohibit forced labour, child labour, extreme labour exploitation, and various slavery-like practice, but a lack of enforcement prevents offenders from being brought to justice, either under criminal laws (which penalise slavery) or labour laws (which involve administrative penalties.) Enhancing law enforcement requires ensuring the proper training of officials, ending corruption, robust prosecutions, and an independent judiciary.

However, there is still no law to penalise business enterprises, multinational corporations, and others for modern slavery in their supply chains and that requires them to undertake due diligence in this regard. Thus, many enterprises succeed in avoiding responsibility for labour standards and other human rights violations. The Modern Slavery Act passed in the UK in 2015 is the first national law (the California Transparency Act applies only in that state) which requires transparency as a legal obligation for businesses or parts of businesses operating in the UK. This is the kind of provision that should be universally binding to ensure full corporate accountability. 

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Policy debate

Can corporations be trusted to tackle modern day slavery?

We asked nine movers and shakers in the field of labour policy to respond to the following: 'Ending forced labor and modern slavery in global supply chains requires binding legislation, rather than corporate self-regulation and self-disclosure. Yes or no?' This is what they answered.


Genevieve LeBaron & Joel Quirk

Genevieve is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sheffield (UK).

Joel Quirk is Associate Professor in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa).

Introduction: In whom should we trust? Responsibility and regulation in global supply chains


Anannya Bhattacharjee
Garment & Allied Workers' Union

Urmila Bhoola
UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

Cathy Feingold

Hugh Helferty
Queen's School of Business

Houtan Homayounpour
International Labour Organisation

Ed Potter
Formerly of the Coca-Cola Company

Anna de Courcy Wheeler
The Freedom Fund

Lara White
International Organisation for Migration

Leonardo Sakamoto
National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labour

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