Wednesday, May 2, 2012

CSR, HR and Human Trafficking

When did you last see a Human Resources Manager's professional job description which explicitly includes responsibility for ensuring a human-trafficking-free supply chain? When did you last catch a Human Resources professional asking the Purchasing Manager about employment practices prevalent in supplier organizations and safeguards in place to prevent to human trafficking? How many Human Resources Managers do you know who have attended a supplier audit of outsourcing vendors? Or even an audit of their own remote facilities? How many Human Resources Managers have put their own jobs on the line to stand up and speak out for elimination of human trafficking risks throughout their extended business? I would venture to suggest that not many Human Resources Managers, especially in developed economies, have even considered that human trafficking may have any remote relationship to the job they were hired to do. It just doesn't hit their radar.

And yet:

"More than 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, which is estimated to be a $32 billion industry, according to a 2011 State Department report. It's the fastest-growing criminal activity after drugs and weapons trafficking. Immigrants, especially those who are poor, desperate for work or fleeing violence, remain particularly vulnerable. Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 130 types of goods in 71 countries were produced with forced labor, child labor or both."

This is a paragraph from an article, in which I am quoted, published yesterday in HR Magazine, the mouthpiece of the Society for Human Resources Management, entitled Modern Day Slavery, authored by Dori Meinert. There are still many companies engaged in many different types of modern day slavery, and many who are complicit through purchasing the good that they manufacture. Many of these companies, the active and the passive, have Human Resources Managers.

Human Rights has been one of the most significant areas of focus in the sustainability agenda for the past few years, reaching new heights with the Protect, Respect, Remedy framework delivered by John Ruggie and ratified by the UN. Protect. Isn't it interesting that people have to be "protected" from companies, exploiting them in so many creative although rather repulsive ways? Apparently, 27 million people do need to be protected. Human rights abuses are now considered to be one of the most significant business, reputation and legal risks that corporations can face.

If you are a (good) Human Resources Manager, you should be appraised of the risks your business is facing and defining the ways in which you can add value in safeguarding these risks through the organization's people. If you happen to be in California, for example, you may actually be required to comply with legislation that requires transparency in your supply chain, including full disclosure on labor practices within your supply chain and monitoring practices. In you are in the State of Washington, which claims to have the toughest anti-trafficking laws in the U.S., you can urge your company to sign the Washington BEST (Businesses ending Slavery and Trafficking) Principles, and read how local businesses, including SME's,  have been disclosed and punished  for human rights abuses as well as read about some of the great initiatives advanced by some companies to raise awareness and preventive action.

As a (good) HR Manager, what do you do? How can you guarantee a climate and culture in your business which are respectful to all employees working in the supply chain and ensure that no violations of human rights are taking place, including trafficking, whatever industry you are in ? How do you ensure that the employees who interface with your supply chain know what to look for and what to avoid, and work from the basis of the organization's values? 

Well, it's simple.
One: Write  a Human Rights policy and have it approved by your Execs.
Two: Perform Human Rights "due diligence" to identify human rights risks in your supply chain
Three: Audit, monitor, share findings and more importantly, sit down and have a discussion with your key suppliers about opportunities for improvement.
Four: Train your people on human rights policies.

That's easy enough. Either HR will lead this process or it will partner the process.


None of the above works unless HR Manager does not first work to embed an internal culture which respects human rights, first and foremost in her own business. How can employees uphold human rights if they themselves do not feel they are working for a company which respects their rights as employees?  From the creation of a  harassment and discrimination free workplace, to equal opportunity, to diversity and inclusion, to paying a living wage and more, HR Managers must lead a process which makes human rights a subject of which all employees are aware and which is embedded as a core value and practice in the business. HR must ensure that a framework exists in which the Human Rights of employees are respected and upheld, and also in which employees can recognize Human Rights risks and ensure they act to prevent issues. This is about process, communications and HR structures (such as performance standards and perhaps even compensation). This is what HR does well.  


If you are a (good) HR Manager, you should read Dori Meinert's article on Modern Day Slavery. You should familiarize yourself with the Human Rights issues that could have an impact on your business. You should recognize that, just as companies can no longer externalize the issues created in extended supply chains, and must consider their responsibility as part of this value chain, so HR Managers must consider their reponsibilities relating to the impacts of employee decisions and actions (or inaction) in the supply chain, as well as in own business facilities.

It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

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