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California Senate Bill 657 on Human Trafficking – Are you Prepared?

3p Contributor | Thursday March 3rd, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Susanne Gebauer

When you think of human trafficking, you may imagine smugglers in far away places involved in some kind of slave trade. You may not think of the U.S. and every day occupations such as farm or factory work.  However, according to Congressional Research Services, “[a]s many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked to the United States each year.”

In 2010, several non-governmental organizations in California drew up the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, known as SB 657 – the first act of its kind in the U.S. to link business to the issue of human trafficking.  According to the act, retail sellers and manufacturers with annual worldwide gross receipts over $100 Million doing business in the state of California must publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chain by the end of 2011.  SB 657 will affect over 3,000 companies including major brands, retailers, vendors, and suppliers with headquarters outside of California and even the U.S.  Other states have not followed suit yet, but on a federal level, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is seeking to introduce a similar bill this year.

Although human trafficking is a major problem around the world, discussion of the topic in the corporate social responsibility world is limited.  Most code of conduct audits (social compliance audits) done by a majority of major U.S. brands and retailers address forced and child labor, but rarely do companies explicitly address the problem of human trafficking in their supply chain.  If companies do decide to engage in efforts to eradicate human trafficking from their supply chain, a major challenge when confronted with exploitation is identifying the ways in which individuals were recruited and proving that they were coerced or defrauded.

Some points that are important to consider as you think about human trafficking issues:

  • In order to stop human trafficking, you may have to venture overseas to the labor recruiter to ascertain the specific details of the act.
  • In order to prevent human trafficking, you will have to introduce supplier standards and company processes and procedures that address the recruitment process of employees from start to finish.

In the past, sex trafficking of women and children was the biggest form of trafficking, but today, more and more males are victims of human trafficking, and labor trafficking has risen to the forefront.  According to the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 (TIP report), between Oct 2008- Sep 2009 there were 43 human trafficking prosecutions, of which 21 were labor trafficking and 22 were sex trafficking.

Also, the notion of trafficking victims as migrants who entered the U.S. illegally or as persons who crossed national borders no longer holds true.  Many victims enter the U.S. with legitimate work or student visas  (see Guest Worker Programs: Panacea for Workforce Shortages or Path Toward Modern-Day Human Trafficking?).  Even U.S. citizens are victims of trafficking within their own country.

The face of human trafficking has evolved in the past years to include any person working in the U.S., whether foreign or American, female or male, child or adult, under legal or illegal immigration status, and in any business sector.

Although SB 657 does not require companies to engage in any efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chain, it will certainly increase the pressure on companies to take a look at such activities.  As mentioned above, labor trafficking has become more and more prevalent; forced labor and debt bondage as the purposes of trafficking are on the top of list in the U.S.  Efforts by the U.S. government alone do not suffice.  Business entities need to engage in activities to overturn such human rights abuses.

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If you are interested in learning more about the SB 657 California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, please visit STR Responsible Sourcing here, or attend our STR Responsible Sourcing Summit next week in Los Angeles, CA, where sponsors of SB 657 and those involved in developing the Act will be sharing their thoughts and recommendations.

After working in Europe, Ghana and China, Susanne Gebauer is now a Research Associate at STR Responsible Sourcing (STR RS), located in Los Angeles, where she manages corporate social responsibility projects related to benchmarking, code of conduct and CSR program development.  She also advises clients and conducts formal trainings on legal compliance and supply chain risk.


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