Five Years Later: Anti-slavery Groups Reflect on the CA Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010
Today marks five years since SB 657, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 was signed into law. This groundbreaking legislation calls public attention to the often opaque supply chains of goods and services we use daily. ATEST was involved in pressing for the passage of the law and advocating for its enforcement, along with partners including Humanity United and KnowTheChain.
On this anniversary, two ATEST members—the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) and Free the Slaves—reflect on the law in California, ways to improve it, and how to bring greater supply chain transparency to the United States at a national level.
CAST: The law is important but more needs to be done
As an original supporter of the law, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) has been happy to see the impact it has had on the anti-trafficking movement in California, across the United States, and even globally. This legislation has paved the way for more businesses to fully engage in monitoring human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains and subsequently help prevent modern day slavery from occurring. As a service provider for victims of this horrific crime, CAST applauds these efforts as a way to prevent human trafficking in our own backyards and in countries around the world. In this seminal 5th year of the law we are also happy to see the California Attorney General’s Office take concrete actions to notify the over 2,600 companies in California of their obligations to comply with the law as well as providing a resource guide for companies seeking to effectively comply with the bills requirements.
To improve future Transparency in Supply Chains Act resources, ATEST today released comments on the Attorney General’s Informational Letter and Guide. These comments are publicly available here. We hope that the CA Attorney General will take enforcement action against those companies still not in compliance with the posting requirements of the bill. The top requests to the California Attorney General are to (1) annually update the resource guide with input from the business and advocacy communities; (2) publicly post the URLs the Attorney General receives in response to its notification letter to companies asking for the location of their compliance postings; and (3) annually notify companies of their continuing compliance responsibilities and of formal protocols the California Attorney General has put in place around actions that may be taken against those companies not in compliance.
Only through continued pressure from both the public and the CA Attorney General’s office can we hope to achieve a continuing dialogue with companies to prevent human trafficking in their supply chains. For too long victims of modern slavery have toiled in silence with companies unaware or turning a blind to the exploitative practices of their subcontractors. The CA Transparency in Supply Chains Act and other efforts in this area have begun to change this reality for so many workers. We hope that these provisions that have been enacted in California, the world’s 7th largest economy, can be extended nationally to cover all companies working in the United States.
Free the Slaves: Realizing the promise of SB657 necessitates federal legislative action
A transparency measure is only as effective as the quality of the data that it generates. In the case of SB 657, it is important to assess whether the data generated enables the legislation’s intended audience to act, to realize the law’s intentions. SB 657 was designed to impact, at a minimum, the following communities: the business community, specifically retail sellers and manufacturers with over $100 million in worldwide gross receipts doing business in California; consumers interested in making ethical purchasing decisions based on a company’s disclosed commitment to eradicating slavery and trafficking from its supply chain; investors committed to supporting companies that are taking steps to mitigate their legal and reputational risks related to their supply chain management practices; NGOs and other civil society organizations providing services to survivors of slavery and trafficking and/or advocates for corporate accountability for business complicity in human right abuses; and, most importantly, the forced laborers themselves, who were intended to be the ultimate beneficiaries of the legislation, the population the law was designed to protect.
Considering the law’s ambitious intentions, and its intended audience, the verdict regarding the effectiveness of the legislation is still out. This is due to a variety of factors, including the paucity of resources devoted to evaluating the effectiveness of a given company’s disclosed supply chain policies in addressing potential human rights violations occurring at the primary commodity level, where these abuses are most likely to occur. However, the difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of the legislation as it relates to the majority of its intended audience can be attributed to a glaring irony attending the law since its enactment: the fact that SB657, a transparency measure, has been interpreted and implemented in a way that makes it largely impossible for businesses, consumers, investors, NGOs, civil society organizations and service providers to identify the companies that are required to comply.
While organizations like CAST, ATEST, and KnowTheChain have significantly improved the law by addressing deficiencies in its implementation, realizing the promise of SB 657’s original intentions will likely necessitate additional legislative action. Legislation based on SB 657 has recently been introduced at the federal level, by Representatives Maloney and Smith in the House of Representatives (HR 3226), and Senators Blumenthal and Markey in the Senate (S. 1968). These bills will require publicly traded companies with over $100 million in worldwide gross receipts to disclose in their annual filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) what steps they are taking to addressing slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains and business operations. Significantly, the data that would be generated through these disclosures would be publicly available, accessible through company websites and a database maintained by the SEC. In addition, the constituency for transparency legislation that was identified and cultivated through SB 657 has grown: HR 3226/S. 1968 has been endorsed by 119 organizations, and 112 investment firms representing over $1 trillion in assets under management. Between the ongoing effort to ensure SB 657 realizes its promise, the passage of a law in the UK based on SB 657, the introduction of legislation in the US House and Senate, and the growing constituency of organizations and activists around the world advocating for increased transparency and action by businesses related to gross violations of human rights in supply chains, there’s reason for qualified optimism concerning the fate of those currently condemned to extract the minerals, harvest the crops, and process the materials that fuel the global economy.
The 5th anniversary of the passage of SB657 presents an opportunity to reflect on what the law has accomplished, how it can be improved, and what is necessary to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking from global production networks. As an international anti-trafficking organization with partners addressing slavery and human trafficking in six countries—Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Haiti, India and Nepal—Free the Slaves has experience working with communities whose members are enslaved, including individuals and families whose exploitation is embedded in many of the products we buy, from clothes to consumer electronics. The communities that we work with are typically enslaved at the bottom of the value chain, for instance, in the extraction of minerals in the DRC. We are therefore supportive of legislative efforts that seek to connect the abuses these communities are enduring with the final market for their labor, including consumers and investors in the West. SB657 has succeeded in highlighting the issue of forced labor and trafficking in supply chains. It has compelled companies who might have been ignorant of these abuses to examine their possible complicity in extreme violations of human rights. At the same time, more work needs to be done, to ensure that the data generated through the disclosures required by SB 657 is actionable and benefits the communities the law was designed to help.