Promoting a human-rights approach in addressing trafficking in persons in supply chains

Event Date: 
Thursday, February 27, 2020

Promoting a human-rights approach in addressing trafficking in persons in supply chains

Corporations and businesses, governments and international organizations, as well as consumers, all have a role to play in preventing, mitigating and addressing the risks of exploitative labour in supply chains.

Governments, for example, can strengthen regulations and improve policy coherence. They can also lead by example in their own economic roles as owners, as purchasers, trade financiers and investors, including in third countries.

The United Nations has similar responsibilities. A number of UN Security Council Resolutions call upon UN system organizations to enhance transparency in their due diligence requirements and to mitigate the risk of contributing to trafficking in persons through procurement.

Meaningful action also requires coordination and cooperation. As the lead policy mechanism to coordinate anti-trafficking policy development within and beyond the UN system, the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) now comprises 25 different entities across the UN system and other relevant international organizations with a mandate to address trafficking in persons. A primary objective of ICAT is to help mobilize collective efforts with one united voice. Contributions made by ICAT in this domain have been reflected in a number of UN General Assembly resolutions, which urged ICAT to help focus the attention of stakeholders on both persistent and emerging forms of trafficking in persons. 

In this spirit, on 27 February, in the margins of the 43rd Human Rights Council at the United Nations Office in Geneva, ICAT, jointly with the Geneva-based Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking, hosted an event providing a human rights perspective on how to prevent trafficking in human beings in supply chains through sound procurement policies and procedures.

Panellists, including Ambassador Yury Ambrazevich of Belarus, and representatives of UNODC, OSCE, UN Women, ILO, IOM and Australia held an interactive discussion outlining existing requirements at the international, regional, and national level as well as some best practices and policies on the issue.

As noted by Ambassador Ambrazevich, “the downside of global supply chains are the risks of exploitation and trafficking in persons, which impact the most marginalized amongst us. That is why action is so important, including multilateral efforts to tackle these transnational human rights violations as well as the development and support of public-private partnerships.”

“A number of government and non-governmental actors are increasingly recognising the need to implement measures to prevent and address the issue, and are willing to take action,” said Matthew Taylor from UNODC, who moderated the event. “We are extremely encouraged to see that many countries are working in partnership with businesses today.” 

“It is about declining to buy goods or services that are tainted by exploited labour” said Valiant Richey, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. “This approach is both a disruption to the existing activities of traffickers and a prevention strategy that discourage the demand that fuels exploitation.”

The perspectives of victims should inform any viable strategy to counter the crime. As highlighted by Anne-Claire Blok of UN Women, trafficking in persons affects women and girls, including in industry, and is often fuelled by gender inequality as a predominant risk factor. It equally affects migrants; hence, it is of critical important to protect and offer remedies to this vulnerable category of people, as stressed by Mathieu Luciano from IOM. This includes making sure that no recruitment fees are paid by workers.

Since 2015, Australia has had innovative legislation which requires large corporations to report to the government on both risks and contingency measures aimed at ensuring sustainable business conducts. Australian representative Stephen McGlynn highlighted the role of governments in leading by example, and the importance of international cooperation in tackling transnational crime. He highlighted, for example, the development, by the Governments of Australia, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand, of the Principles to Guide Government Action to Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains.

Thomas Wissing from ILO provided insight into what international organizations can do to support these efforts, highlighting the importance of sharing knowledge, principles and tools across the UN system to sensitize vendors, contractors and procurement officials. Initiatives by the UN Procurement are well underway with the technical cooperation of ICAT to strengthen social inclusion and mitigation measures.

An issue brief on trafficking in persons and forced labour is forthcoming. For more updates, follow us on Twitter @ICAT_news.