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Ending modern slavery: tackling trafficking in American supply chains

| Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Slavery isn’t dead. In fact, 23 slaves work for me: seven to mine the minerals used in my phone, 11 to pick the cotton for my shirts and five to harvest the beans in my morning cup of coffee.

Of course, there is no way to know how many slaves are forced to work for my comfort. They’re hidden in multi-tiered and complex global supply chains, but the 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are enslaved worldwide.

Despite the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which states “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms,” slave labor taints the supply chains of global industries. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor compiled a list of 136 commonplace goods — scarves, chocolate, soccer balls — made by trafficked laborers.

For the most part, American companies are unaware of how their supply chains include slaves. Because of the United States’ strict penalties for companies using slave labor, trafficked individuals are absent from a company’s immediate operations. Slaves, however, exist at the base of these chains — mining or harvesting input goods. Through a process of intermediaries, their labor ends up in the factories of American companies. Fortune magazine identifies Hershey’s Kit-Kat chocolate as particularly susceptible to using products harvested by child laborers.

It’s easy to for companies to turn a blind eye to the origins of their raw materials; cheaper materials equate to better profits. It’s also easy for everyday Americans to ignore this labor epidemic when the pay less at the cash register. But the question must be asked: Why should we support products imported to the U.S. made under labor conditions that we systematically condemn?

There is no justification for human trafficking, and a coalition of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s and Holy Cross students and faculty representing Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, believes there is a solution.

The Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Human Slavery Act is a bill that will soon be reintroduced into Congress. The legislation mandates companies investigate their supply chains for forced labor and disclose their findings on their websites.

Based on a similar California law, the bill is a free-market solution. It doesn’t impose specific penalties for companies that find human trafficking in their supply chain; instead, it increases public access to this information and empowers consumers to decide what companies to buy from. It also avoids a regulatory burden for American businesses, as it only requires compliance from companies with over $100 million in sales.

To be successful, this legislation requires bipartisan support from as many Congressmen, legislators like congresswoman Jackie Walorski, as possible. Representative Walorski of Indiana’s second Congressional District has been a staunch advocate of anti-trafficking legislation. My team and I commend her recent support for a package of anti-trafficking legislation that passed the House. We now ask her to continue the fight by working towards the passage of the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Human Slavery Act.

Your assistance is also vital to this process. By signing this petition, we stand united as students and faculty guided by Congregation of Holy Cross’ mission, members of Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District and global citizens in solidarity with 45.8 million victims of modern slavery. The petition will be used in meetings with Rep. Walorski and her staff that her constituency is calling her to act for the greater good of us, businesses and the slaves that work for you.

Ben Kilano
March 31


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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