THE BLOG
10/18/2010 12:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Slavery and Supply Chains

I initially engaged around the issue of trafficking and slavery when I was shocked and spurred into action by reports of sex trafficking. Nothing seemed to me more heinous than the repeated rape and violence its victims endured. Although the first victims that I met were California-based, other travels around the world, to Russia, Ghana, Thailand, Cambodia, India and Europe, painted a wider perspective of how slavery pervades my own life. People often ask me, "Where is it worst?" My answer is, "in my home." In other words, products tainted by slave labor are present in the supply chains of the goods that we purchase, consume, and rely on every day.

The United States Office on Trafficking in Persons most recent report states that the majority of slaves in the world today are engaged in agriculture and mining. The International Labor Organization has recently stated that for every one person around the world forced into the sex trade, nine people are forced to work. Although it is a tip of the iceberg figure, the TIP office recognizes 12.3 million people enslaved globally; more than ever before in history. You can purchase an agricultural worker on American soil today for around $300.

What keeps me up at night, what haunts me, are the victims' stories and the wide variety of the faces of slavery. I will never forget the girl who crawled out of an eight floor window for fear of their life in sex slavery -- and neither can I forget the child enslaved in the fishing industry who jumped ship into the Thai sea to float on a barrel for two days and a night before being rescued, or the child who was chained and burnt while working on our carpets, or the child soldier who had to burn his village, kill his mother and rape his sister, or the stories of the artisanal miner of gold who had a two-year life expectancy, or the enslaved garment worker making my clothing, or the footage of a Mayan agricultural worker trapped in Florida picking my tomatoes. They are not any less deserving of all our compassion, attention and commitment than those forced into sex slavery. And their stories need our attention.

In an effort to assist all of us to become more informed consumers, I founded an organization called the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET). We sponsored the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, also known as Senate Bill 657. Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 30th, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires retail sellers and manufacturers doing business in CA to publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chains. The legislation applies to retailers and manufacturers with over $100 million in worldwide gross receipts. It affects over 3,000 companies doing business in California. These companies represent approximately 87% of economic activity in the state, which is still the 10th largest economy in the world.

While opposed by those who lobby for the interests of big business, Governor Schwarzenegger took a very brave and bold step and should be commended for his leadership on this issue. We realize that California is in a state of fiscal emergency, and we appreciate the recognition on the part of the Governor, Senator Steinberg and other legislators that California could be a leader in the promotion of fundamental human rights, even during the most difficult times.

Beginning in January 2012, companies impacted by the bill will have to post on their websites what policies they have in place to ensure that their supply chains are free of slavery and human trafficking. This new law is one small step in a long journey forged by others that ASSET has joined. I hope it will enable a watershed in the sharing of knowledge, and will enable active consumer engagement and encourage a pooling of resources to get us closer to concrete measurable results.

I now define slavery as when one person controls another, uses violence or violent threat to maintain that control, and exploits them economically, paying them effectively nothing. Trafficking in persons is a process of enslaving someone. I have not lost my zeal to combat sex slavery, nor the desire to see the selling of children into the sex trade become a thing of the past, and I will continue to fight for resources to be devoted to this segment of slavery. I hope all those reading this will do the same.

We all have a role to play in supporting solutions to combat slavery -- and there are many solutions. However, before we can implement these solutions, we need a massive spike in resources. As a movement, we are currently taking baby steps against the transnational organized criminal groups reaping billions of dollars in rewards from an unchecked hell. We need resources, now, for the education of police and the public on how to engage; to obtain better, more current research and take it through to meta-analysis. We need to motivate more expansive government legislation to get top global strategists to create the path to tackle this issue at source.

The consumer can support businesses that are creating best practices, and can encourage them to bring the innovative business skill-set and their extensive supply chain knowledge into the mix. The investor can influence corporate governance to place human rights at the heart of its values.

We need companies to come to the table to collaborate in finding better solutions, to work with the NGO community that can strategically offer victims safe harbor, rehabilitation and assist specifically vulnerable communities. We cannot get accurate and efficient access to those victims without the consent and collaboration of the companies that influence those very supply chains.

We need the media to cover the issue proportionately, and we need to use our consumer and investment power to support companies taking the right course of action. We need media outlets to articulate how business can use their supply chains as a map to illuminate the worst areas of poverty in the world-- where slavery and trafficking take hold.

As advocates we need to do a better job at articulating to the public the enormous challenge that today's complex supply chains present to business. The CEO is most often not the criminal; rather, the criminal activity tainting their supply chain is most often around source materials -- just as shoplifting is criminal activity at the other end of the supply chain. We need to set aside the naming and shaming, pointing and blaming and work together, with an open mind to understanding better the very real challenges on every side: government, corporate and personal. We need to get over the discomfort that this issue provokes and not dismiss it as one of life's awful tragedies. If we can go to the moon, if we can replace a heart, we can end slavery.

Consumers and Investors who are interested in learning more and influencing business efforts to combat slavery and trafficking in their supply chains should visit our website, www.assetcampaign.org, where they can access and participate in www.chainstorereaction.com.