August, 2019 Monthly Reflection

Better Companies, Better World

Linda Haydock, SNJM

To change corporate business practices on human trafficking is a long-term, demanding, and often daunting task. Let us celebrate the progress we have made.

A powerful alliance is formed when religious women and men, ecumenical and interfaith groups, and non-profit partners bring their faith to bear in the boardrooms of the largest corporations in the world. In twenty years, there are many accomplishments in addressing human trafficking through shareholder advocacy.

Four areas are noteworthy:

  • Major movement to stem human trafficking in the tourism industry;
  • Success in reducing human trafficking in the business supply chain;
  • An emerging call to the tech sector for vigilance concerning child exploitation online;
  • Companies adopting ethical recruitment policies and practices.

Many years and many partnerships have been devoted to addressing sex trafficking taking place in hotels and through airline travel. The result is that almost every major hotel chain has signed the “The Code” to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Nearly one million employees have received training to prevent exploitation; identify and report suspected cases of human trafficking, and to support children’s rights. American and Delta airlines are among those who trained employees, publish notices about human trafficking in their onboard magazines or engaged in efforts to protect children. The next plane you board, ask the flight attendant if she/he has received training about human trafficking.

It is a challenge to keep a careful watch on the corporate supply chain from the sourcing of raw materials to the finished product. Shareholder resolutions and dialogues with numerous companies have created accountability. What does a win-win-win look like for vulnerable people, shareholders and companies?

An example is The Hershey Company. What is not to like about chocolate? Child labor! It was religious shareholders’ concern twelve years ago about child labor on the cocoa farms in the African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast that prompted dialogue with Hershey. These many years later we celebrate Hershey’s commitment to 100% certifiable and sustainable cocoa by 2020, which is free of child labor; the $500 million “Cocoa for Good Program” to nourish and empower children and preserve natural eco-systems in the Ivory Coast and Ghana; and the adoption of a Human Rights Policy that includes ethical recruitment.

Whether it concerns our food, clothes or household products, it is incumbent upon each of us to raise our consciousness about the human story in the supply chain. Judy Byron, OP, invites us to ask, “Could I have a human trafficking footprint?” When I put on a shirt in the morning or make a food choice for my evening meal, it is an opportunity to reflect on the story behind the label. A choice of “Fair Trade” can ensure that one is contributing to the dignity of workers.

Thirdly, the tech sector possesses enormous potential to solve global problems, and conversely, it can exacerbate age-old issues. Recently Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS) illuminated the potential dark side of the tech sector, child pornography. Through a shareholder resolution, CBIS called Verizon’s Corporate Board to issue a report on the potential sexual exploitation of children through the Company’s products and services. The result, 33.7 percent of Verizon’s shareholders voted in favor of the resolution! It is more than hopeful that there is an increasing awareness among shareholders that they have a voice in setting the direction of the company. If you have a retirement portfolio, a money manager or investments, be sure that you or your manager examine and vote the proxies of the companies in which you are invested.

Fourthly, a critical area of focus in shareholder advocacy in modern day slavery is to request the ethical recruitment of workers. The global economy creates a climate where labor brokers charge worker outrageous recruitment fees, take travel documents and do not provide contracts. It can take years for a migrant worker to pay back the debt incurred. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is leading the No fees Campaign to support ethical recruitment. To date, 40 companies including Walmart, Ford, Hormel and Archer Daniels Midland have committed to “no worker paid fees.”

Please join the Alliance to End Human Trafficking in our continuing efforts to require business transparency. Ask your Congress member to support the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019.

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