Addressing Risks of Forced Labor in Supply Chains

Addressing Risks of Forced Labor in Supply Chains

Addressing Risks of Forced Labor in Supply Chains

With increasing attention to forced labor, trafficking, and modern slavery issues throughout supply chains, including new laws and regulations,1 FLA-affiliated companies continue to exercise their long-standing commitment to protecting workers from such violations in their manufacturing facilities, even as the most proactive companies also investigate how to enforce this commitment at deeper levels of the supply chain.

FLA standards on forced labor — incorporated into the FLA program since its inception in 1999 — detail more than a dozen indicators for companies evaluating whether their suppliers or producers are upholding their human rights commitments, and can be useful at any supply chain level.

This brief will focus on best practices for identifying and eradicating forced labor at the supplier level. It will explain the indicators of forced labor as incorporated into the FLA code, provide examples of risks and violations reported by the FLA’s on-the-ground assessors, and offer recommendations of proactive and cooperative steps that brands can take to ensure suppliers do not engage in or tolerate trafficking and forced labor.

Beyond the basic requirement that “workers shall have the right to enter into and to terminate their employment freely,” and the clear prohibitions on “prison labor [and] bonded labor,” FLA standards also require that workers must have reasonable freedom of movement at work, must not be bound to their jobs by debt, and may not be forced to work overtime involuntarily. Companies assessing entire supply chains against these standards — and working to remediate the violations they find — are well adapted to an evolving global environment in which governments, consumers, and civil society, are raising increasing concerns about companies’ connections to human trafficking and modern slavery.

For example, in April of 2017, the advocacy organization Know the Chain3 evaluated companies in three industry sectors — apparel and footwear, food and beverage, and communications technology — publicly reporting on the extent of their efforts to eradicate forced labor. And the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has maintained a “No Fees” Initiative in recent years, encouraging companies across many industries to pledge that they will forbid workers to be charged recruitment fees in their supply chains, to prevent the risk of bonded labor.

The FLA and our affiliates believe no worker should be unable to leave a job at will because of the burden of a heavy recruitment debt to an employer. No migrant worker should have to worry about being able to return home freely because an employer is withholding a passport, other important legal documents, or workers’ wages. And no worker should have to risk termination because they are unable to work involuntary overtime or choose not to.

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