ICAT promotes multi-stakeholder partnerships to address trafficking in supply chains, including through public procurement

Event Date: 
Monday, September 9, 2019

ICAT promotes multi-stakeholder partnerships to address trafficking in supply chains, including through public procurement

Trafficking in persons occurs in the production of goods and in the delivery of services. Globally, perpetrators can target vulnerable workers and subject them to forced labour along a supply chain. This includes commercial, multi-partner arrangements in agriculture and farming, fishing, and manufacturing, among others.

On 9 September 2019, the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) convened a policy dialogue to advance State responses to trafficking in persons in supply chains, including through sustainable procurement processes. A multi-stakeholder panel of national experts and practitioners briefed a large gathering of State representatives in the margins of the meeting of the intergovernmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The panel was moderated by Mr. Martin Fowke from the Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section at UNODC, which is ICAT’s permanent coordinator, as well as secretariat to the intergovernmental Working Group. The Working Group, now in its 10th year, provides a unique forum in the UN system for practitioner-to-practitioner exchange of experience and expertise in responding to trafficking in persons. It has produced close to 300 recommendations to States and their practitioners on interpretation and implementation of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, including, in this latest session, new recommendations calling for specific action by States, international organizations and businesses to address human trafficking in supply chains.

In recalling Resolution 27/2 adopted at the 27th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), Ambassador Alena Kupchyna of Belarus, the current Chair of the Commission, opened the briefing by stressing the importance of public-private partnerships to identify and address trafficking-related risks in supply chains for goods and services, including by leveraging technology.

Representatives of the UK and USA outlined their experiences in tackling this issue and elaborated on their joint initiative to galvanise government action, globally, including measures aimed at legal and policy harmonization.

“Public procurement accounts for an average of 15% or more of a country’s GDP so there is huge potential to harness the collective spending power of Governments to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking”, said Ms. Phoebe Blagg, Senior Adviser, Modern Slavery Unit, of the UK Home Office. “The UK encourages Governments and multilateral organizations to adopt the Principles to Guide Government Action to Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains and use these as a framework to develop and implement their own strategies to take effective action to prevent and eradicate human trafficking from public and private sector supply chains.”

Due to the magnitude and value of their own procurement, public entities, as well as regional and inter-governmental organizations, are increasingly recognizing the need to implement actions to prevent exploitative and forced labour in the goods and services they procure.

“The United States is one of if not the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world”, noted Ms. Carla Bury, Senior Multilateral Affairs Advisor of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in the US State Department, “as such, we have undertaken significant steps over the last several years to strengthen protections against trafficking in persons in our public procurement. We are encouraging governments that are considering new policies, regulations, and laws on due diligence in global supply chains to consider existing regulations and laws in order to capitalize on best practices and ease the reporting and other requirements on business, and we appreciate harmonization across regions, especially on procurement”, Ms. Bury added.

Mr. Valiant Richey, the OSCE Special Representative for Combating Human Trafficking, noted the relevance of engaging the public sector in responding to the scale of the problem. “Not taking action carries serious public relations and reputation risks”, Mr. Richey said, “in addition, it is strategic from an operational perspective - we have control over what we buy compared to control over catching and stamping out the activities of traffickers”.

The United Nations system, for its part, has an integral role to play in tackling trafficking in persons in its supply chains. Recent UN Security Council Resolutions call upon UN agencies to mitigate the risks of contributing to trafficking in persons, including in armed conflicts, through procurement.

Against this backdrop, as the UN’s leading coordination vehicle and policy forum on trafficking in persons, the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT), under the 2019 co-chairpersonship of OSCE and UN Women, has recently engaged with the UN Procurement Network to identify and develop practical measures in response.

In a video address, Mr. Vanja Ostojic, Deputy Chief and Principal Procurement Specialist at the International Labour Organization, highlighted how the combined purchasing power of UN organizations holds significant potential to influence the market in favour of sustainable development. “The procurement divisions of 39 agencies are collaborating in the UN High-Level Committee on Management’s Procurement Network with the purpose of promoting the strategic importance of procurement and supply management in a transparent and accountable manner”, Mr. Ostojic said. Within this framework, a dedicated task force has been established with the objective of developing and coordinating a coherent and comprehensive approach to combat human trafficking and forced labour in supply chains through UN procurement operations. “In this regard, the task force welcomes the opportunity of collaboration and partnership with the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons to further enable this work”, Mr. Ostojic added.

ICAT is a policy forum mandated by the UN General Assembly to improve coordination among UN agencies and other relevant international organizations to facilitate a holistic and comprehensive approach to preventing and combating trafficking of persons. It was formally established in March 2007, pursuant to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 61/180, and currently consists of 22 organizations and two partners.