While researching Ashton Kutcher for his appearance at the City Summit, I became acutely aware of the exploitation of children, women and laborers. Then, Human Trafficking Awareness Month came and went without much talk on why the labor and supply chain aspect epidemic is affecting businesses at any stage of growth, size or location, and is often coupled with sex and child exploitation. If you are not taking steps to protect your business and your brand from getting caught unaware, you are playing a high-stakes game of risk.
Before we get started, let's cover some basic facts:
- Human Trafficking, as defined by the United Nations, is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, abduction, fraud, or coercion for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.
- According to the International Labour Organization, Human Trafficking is a 150 billion dollar industry with 40 million victims today who might be making your clothes, cleaning your hotel room, or building a sports arena as modern day slaves.
- This is happening all around us. California, has three of the top five US cities cited for human trafficking abuses: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Because our businesses today are at high risk for supply chain management issues, I spoke to Kimberly Adams, of Flying Bridges, who works alongside brands such as Uber, AWS, Lucky Jeans and sits on the LA Regional Task Force on Human Trafficking. She helped educate me on the problem and learn how to become part of the solution. As she phrased it, "you can't be outside of a system that is responsible for your existence; the cost of not acting is beginning to cost more than acting."
You Can't Sustain Your Brand If You Aren't Respecting Human Rights
When you became a leader/entrepreneur/contributor, you likely expected to generate profits from goods and services made by employees - nothing wrong with that! But you also implicitly agreed to uphold moral standards that could be mirrored, modeled, tweeted and shared. Big brands understand that, not only is it better business to avoid risk and work ethically, it's also your responsibility. In the past, businesses have either turned a blind eye or feigned ignorance, pretending to have no idea where their supply came from, who makes their stuff, or who was harmed in the process. This is no longer acceptable.
Once you find yourself shut down, blacklisted, or slapped with fines, you are a transgressor and will always be known as one. And because, the speed at which everyone can share and air your dirty laundry is faster than lightning. Consumers are more aware, investors are more aware, talent is more aware, immediate and larger stakeholders are more aware. And when you find yourself wondering why you're no longer able to secure leases, visas, suppliers, and so on, it will be too late.
It Isn't Only the Supply Chain
There are so many potential layers you have to consider in all types and aspects of organizations wanting to be a part of the solution. Thankfully we have pioneering leaders, like Ashton Kutcher building tech tools like Thorn, and Kim at Flying Bridges working with companies like Amazon Web Services to develop technology for employee trainings, identifying red flags of possible trafficking (think Uber, truckers, hotels, etc.), and a platform where these reports can rescue victims and build timely investigations.
In the fight for Human Trafficking, the ability to quickly share and analyze information, internally and externally is valuable. These technologies will help companies:
Prevent/identify labor trafficking within its supply chain
Comply with local, national, and international laws
Help law enforcement identify/rescue victims and perps
Tech Integration to Save Lives and Profit
The reason I am pointing this tech and these resources out are because I believe we will see integration of technology like this very soon to help in the efforts to smash out human trafficking. Alone, it is difficult to follow the complex webs and networks of the evils who are taking advantage of human beings for profit. For starters, I recommend you start paying very close attention to your workers, your supply chain, the businesses you do business with, and so on. This is now on the list of necessary line items to protect your bottom line.
Side Note: The new NFL stadium being built in Inglewood, CA is taking great pains to hire local workers, with diverse backgrounds, and also paying good wages. Take note. It isn't hard to do what's right because it benefits you in the long run, but ignoring risks can have devastating results for all involved.