Teaching Supply Chain Managers How to Fight Slavery

08/04/2016 12:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

By Maurice Middleberg
Executive Director | Free the Slaves

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They typically work in nondescript cubicles in corporate office parks -- and they usually aren't aware that their desks can become the newest front line in the growing global battle against modern slavery. They are the supply chain officers for American companies. And they can wield tremendous influence in eliminating slavery-tainted products from the U.S. economy.

Last weekend, on World Day Against Human Trafficking - I had the privilege of addressing students pursuing a degree in supply chain management at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I'd been invited to speak at the ethics course on how supply chain managers can help fight slavery.

The Supply Chain Management Program at Broward College, launched following a $24.5 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department, trains students to earn certificates, an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree. The program provides coursework in various disciplines in the supply chain management industry, including warehousing, transportation, procurement, import/export, quality management, business law and ethics. Students are prepared to start work immediately after graduation. South Florida is a hub of trade and logistics, and a significant part of the region's economy relies on these industries.

The class was quite remarkable - almost exclusively composed of mid-career adults pursuing a degree. This yielded a highly knowledgeable, inquisitive and experienced group who were highly engaged in an issue that will have immediate practical relevance for their jobs. Many are already employed as buyers for companies, and all are pursuing careers in procurement and supply chain management.

My talk covered three areas. I provided a general background on modern slavery, including laws and executive orders that can provoke sanctions on companies implicated in human trafficking. I described practical steps that companies can take to reduce the likelihood that they are purchasing slave-made goods, including establishing a clear corporate policy, setting expectations with suppliers, risk assessment, monitoring supplier labor recruitment practices, verification of supplier compliance, transparency, and collaboration with non-governmental organizations. I also described the Free the Slaves model of community empowerment to reduce the enslavement of vulnerable workers.

The students were amazing -- asking insightful and thoughtful questions, offering great ideas and proposals, and suggesting new perspectives. What was supposed to be a 90-minute session lasted well over two hours. The enthusiasm and interest of the class was truly inspiring and energizing. I was very graciously received and supported by Laurence Jeffrey, who teaches the ethics course, and Dean Russell McCaffery, who leads the college's School of Industry, Manufacturing, Construction and Transportation.

The Broward College Supply Chain Program offers a unique opportunity to infuse a concern for modern slavery into the training of current and future supply chain managers. This is a model that I hope will be widely replicated.