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Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Supply Chains: The Need for Monitoring and Accountability

Who assembles the various gadgets such as iPhones, iPads, tablets, and laptops most of us use on a regular basis? Who picks the cotton used to make our clothes? Who harvests the cocoa beans used to make our favorite chocolate items? Many consumers do not know the answers to these questions and the reason lies in the basic relationship between businesses and customers. Customers need things. Stores provide them. Customers buy them. The producers and sellers make a profit while the consumers come into possession of a desired object. It appears as if all sides are satisfied, and the balance is preserved with no questions asked. This is unfortunately not quite the case.

A product’s journey from the point of origin to an American store can be legitimate, but as Anti-Slavery International and the What We Buy campaign highlight, in an increasingly globalized economy it is difficult to determine when exploitation might play a role in product development and assembly. Indeed, the Products of Slavery visualization clearly indicates that 12.3 million children and adults across 58 countries work in forced labor, making 122 types of products. A January 2012 report by the CNN Freedom Project reveals that children as young as ten years old are already experienced veterans in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast, Africa. These children have never even tasted chocolate. Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves, however, warns that refusing to buy certain products is not always the best solution to the problem as the materials from a product come from various sources and only a small percentage might include slave labour. Not buying a product then punishes both the producers who use forced or child labour and the ones who do not. A different strategy is needed.

A plethora of initiatives in recent years address the need to require big corporations to take necessary steps to reduce and eventually eliminate forced and child labour from their supply chains. An example is the work by U.S. lawmakers in California. On January 1, 2012, a new law named the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (SB-657) was enacted. To rid the product supply chain of any slavery or child labor, businesses in California with global revenue in excess of $100 million must publicly disclose their efforts to verify, audit and certify their direct suppliers. Employees working with the supply chain must also receive training on human trafficking and slavery.

The law will only work, however, if companies are held accountable to it. With that in mind, on October 21 KnowTheChain was launched by Humanity United and 12 partner organizations. It is an online resource educating companies, investors, policymakers and consumers about the existence of slavery in supply chains. Readers are able to see the public disclosure status of hundreds of companies as well as find additional information about the issue.

Consumers certainly play a role in addressing the problem and have great power when choosing what to buy. KnowTheChain enables us to bypass companies refusing to clean up their supply chains and instead give our money to those that take the issue seriously. It is a simple step that will change the outcome for millions who are powerless to alter their own lives.

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