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The word "slavery" might seem archaic to some, but it continues to describe a scenario that’s prevalent in many parts of the world. Essentially, says Barraco, it refers to forced labor of any type. By that definition, some 35 million people are enslaved within global supply chains today.
In Haiti, for example, around 29 percent of people between the ages of 5 and 15 are engaged in forced labor at some time. The situation could amount to something as basic as an employer holding the employee's passport for "safekeeping" at a factory.
Slavery extends throughout multiple industries around the globe. In Uzbekistan, children are forced to pick cotton nine months out of the year. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, gangs oversee forced labor in mines that produce “conflict minerals” such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Leather for shoes and coffee beans might be the product of slavery in South America.
To fight the trend, companies are undertaking a certain amount of due diligence in their global supply chains. But most of the action against slavery is being taken by government agencies, Barraco says. In addition to reputational risk, companies might face fines of up to $1m in California for selling products that were produced with forced labor. Nationwide, the Securities and Exchange Commission is enforcing a rule mandating that manufacturers disclose the presence of conflict minerals in their products.
Despite efforts to put a stop to it, slavery continues to exist around the world. The problem, says Barraco, is lack of visibility into global supply chains. Most consist of multiple tiers of suppliers that are extremely difficult to monitor without the right relationships and data. Barraco says companies need to do a better job of sharing information and cracking down on violations wherever they might occur.
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