Department of Labor Launches New Toolkit for Businesses to Reduce Child Labor and Forced Labor
Today, Humanity United’s Vice President of Policy & Government Relations David Abramowitz spoke in Washington, D.C. at the launch of the Department of Labor’s new toolkit for businesses, “Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor: A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses.” The guide is the first to be developed by the U.S. government to help businesses combat child labor and forced labor in their global supply chains.
You may view video of today’s proceedings on the DOL’s website.
Here are David’s full remarks from the launch event:
Thanks to DOL for opportunity to speak today.
Especially thank Secretary Solis and the ILAB team for putting forward this exciting new tool.
Background on TVPRA
I had the privilege of working on legislative actions on human trafficking and modern-day slavery from 1999 to 2009 when I worked on the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was framework legislation that was based on a lens of human rights and transnational crime.
By the time of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, Congress began to broaden the government’s approach to human trafficking, including:
- Trafficking in post-conflict and humanitarian emergencies
- Acting on a range of domestic causes of trafficking
- And focusing more on supply chains and goods made abroad
Given that DOL had of course been working on child labor and forced labor for a long time, Congress wanted to leverage DOL’s expertise to help promote solutions in the area of supply chains and human trafficking.
In this context, a first step was obtaining more information by creating a new report on what specific goods abroad were made from Forced labor and child labor in violation of international standards?
But the late Congressman Lantos and Congressman Chris Smith believed that we also needed to let DoL to provide best practices on how to prevent a company’s involvement in human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Such practices could be a huge kick start to business that want to address the fact that they are acquiring goods or materials that were on the list of products made with forced labor.
Since that time, much has happened.
Existing pioneering work continued, such as the Harkin Engel protocol on cocoa fields in West Africa, and labor itself did further work on other commodities, such as shrimp in Southeast Asia.
Yet DOL’s first report on products made with forced and child labor demonstrated that these practices are even more widespread than previously recognized.
Problem areas include gold and other mining, fishing, palm plantations, and of course, agriculture generally. Wherever labor is an important factor of production, there are efforts to reduce its costs, including through exploitation.
At Humanity United, which is a foundation based in San Francisco that works on advancing human freedom and peacebuilding, one of our strategic areas is corporate engagement on supply chains.
HU believes that the prevalence of forced labor and other forms of modern day slavery is most significant deep within supply chains, in the production of agricultural and extractive commodities.
We see a virtuous cycle, between consumers who are increasing focused on the products they buy, and the supply chains of the companies that make those products.
Companies who implement meaningful changes will see a reward in the marketplace, thus allowing for the cycle to continue and for consumers in the global north to have a direct impact on the welfare of producers living largely in the global south.
To help bolster this cycle, HU sees a four-step process, which in many ways mirrors the tool we just saw:
- Research on where modern day slavery exist
- Build awareness and motivate business to take action
- Develop and implement tools and best practices
- Monitor, evaluate, and audit to make sure there is accountability
With more research and growing media attention and citizen awareness, companies are growing more motivated to act.
That is where this new DOL tool and other tools come in, such as the promising practices that the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking will be publishing soon.
The DOL tool sets forth a framework of knowledge gathering, standard setting, and monitoring and reviewing that can set new and higher standards for industry to embrace.
Let me just highlight a couple of features that I feel are particularly notable:
- The tool is replete with multiple examples that can be very effective in discussions with businesses.
- Representatives of companies sometimes say that this area is too hard or that they will be at a competitive disadvantage if they engage.
- These examples show that this work can and is being done by business leaders in many sectors.
- The tool also has a strong focus on monitoring, implementation, grievances and auditing.
Without this focus, commitments and codes of conduct can never fulfill their promise, no matter how good
And it is not simply outside, independent auditors who can play a role, but as the tool suggests, the workers themselves as well.
We have seen in the agricultural sector the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, where the workers themselves are part of the monitoring and auditing processes, a great example for the agricultural sector to look at.
And we need to look at not only what is happening in the fields, mines and factories, but also how the workers get there, which is why I was very pleased that the tool refers to the Verite/Manpower guidelines on labor brokers.
We have a great opportunity here:
- A new California Transparency Law that has a broad set of companies looking at their practices
- A DOL report on goods made with forced labor and child labor that puts companies on notice that they should be doing more
- An executive order designed to end trafficking the U.S. Government’s supply chains that will hopefully trigger a race to the top in order to compete for federal procurement
- And now, a new set of tools that, among others, can show how that race can be won
These developments hold promise that stopping human trafficking in supply chains will not be seen merely as a moral choice but also as an important business practice that will be deeply ingrained in every corporate culture.
But today’s launch is not a destination; instead it is only one step in a long journey.
I hope that representatives from ILAB, business, civil society and academia can get together in the new year to discuss this tool and other emerging promising practices to do exactly what this new tool suggests – assess, implement, review and learn to do better as we move forward.
Thanks to Secretary Solis and the ILAB team on producing this terrific new tool and the opportunity to share some reflections with you.
- Web page: Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor: A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses
- News Release: U.S. Department of Labor releases toolkit to help businesses combat child and forced labor in global supply chains
- Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB): http://www.dol.gov/ilab/