Employees are the backbone of any supply chain operator. As such, upholding fundamental labor standards and protecting worker rights is a complex undertaking. Further, COVID-19 has introduced additional complexities regarding employee safety and remote work. The following are some considerations to help employers navigate the global framework of ever-evolving laws that touch the supply chain.
One of the major priorities for an employer in the supply chain industry is to avoid and prevent forced labor. Globally, millions are thought to be in trapped in forced labor. Many of these victims are linked to the supply chains of the international businesses supplying our goods and services. According to the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index, published with input from the United Nations’ International Labor Organization and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of 2016, about 40.3 million men, women and children were trapped in modern slavery, including 24.9 million people who were victims of forced labor in global supply chains. Slavery can exist in all stages of the supply chain, from the picking of raw materials such as cocoa or cotton, to manufacturing goods such as mobile phones or garments, and at later stages of shipping and delivery to consumers.
To combat this human rights issue, several governments, on the global and U.S. federal and state levels, have passed laws to prevent human trafficking and require companies to ensure that they are not using forced labor:
- In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act makes human trafficking a federal crime, allows victims to sue traffickers; expands the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act’s list of crimes to include human trafficking, provides deportation protections for victims and their families, requires annual reports to Congress on efforts to prevent human trafficking, requires the government to notify all applicants for work and education visas about workers’ rights in the US and screen all unaccompanied immigrant children. Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labor, including convict labor, forced child labor and indentured labor. Regulations promulgated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) allow for issuing withhold release orders, requiring detention of goods at ports of entry when CBP agents reasonably believe that an importer is attempting to enter goods made with forced labor.
- Further, California enacted the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, under which companies with over $100 million in gross sales who do business in California must disclose on their websites any efforts taken to eradicate human trafficking from their supply chains.