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10 Steps Companies Can Take To Address Child and Forced Labor

As we march past Labor Day and into the classroom, we are reminded of an essential component for building a global sustainable economy: protecting the human rights of workers.
by Amy AugustineCeres Posted on Sep 09, 2016

From laptops to backpacks to the carefully chosen outfit for back-to-school pictures, it might surprise you that the must have-items on your kids’ shopping lists might also sit on the U.S. Department of Labor’s list of goods produced with child and/or forced labor.

As we march past Labor Day and into the classroom, we are reminded of an essential component for building a global sustainable economy: protecting the human rights of workers. But even today, forced labor and human trafficking affect an estimated 21 to 27 million people worldwide. For companies with global operations and complex, multi-tier supply chains stretching down to the farm and factory level, ensuring universally safe and equitable working conditions can be an enormous challenge to overcome—and often companies don’t know quite where to start.

woman harvesting cottonIn support of the collaborative efforts of the international community, including the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, we recently updated the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability. We specify more clearly how we expect companies to build fair, safe and equitable workplaces, including the protection of workers’ human rights across operations and global supply chains.

Here are 10 steps companies can take to address child and forced labor:

1. Assess key risks and impacts: From basic education to conducting robust human rights risk assessments, and from mapping supply chains to tracing materials used in products, it is critical to gain a sound understanding of key risks and impacts.

2. Establish effective policies: These policies should align with internationally recognized standards and be applicable to both direct employees and suppliers, and made accessible in relevant languages.

3. Develop implementation programs and time-bound measurable goals: Leverage workers voices in the creation of programs, where possible, to ensure they are addressing key needs and impacts and set goals and targets to drive performance.

4. Communicate expectations: Clear policies and programs and performance goals can be used to communicate commitment and accountability from the top both internally and to suppliers.

5. Align internal processes, including procurement practices and strategic business decisions: These processes should reinforce, not diminish, fair and equitable working conditions.

6. Invest in training and capacity building: Ensure company employees, management, and suppliers have the training—and incentives—needed to effectively manage and meet expectations and that they are cascaded throughout the supply chain.

7. Engage suppliers as partners and innovators: Support their efforts by demonstrating their business value and empowering them to create solutions.

8. Measure performance: Understand that audits, while important, do not provide a full picture of working conditions. Find ways to engage workers, providing robust grievance mechanisms and measure outcomes, not just process.

9. Disclose results: Regularly report performance, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and candidly discuss challenges, including actions taken to address and prevent recurrence. Encourage suppliers to report their performance.

10. Engage stakeholders: No one company, industry, or organization can solve this issue alone. Collaboration with peers, labor and human rights organizations, investors, government, and others is more effective than tackling it alone.

To affect meaningful, widespread, and long-lasting changes in all workplaces, from corporate offices to factories and fields, companies must act—and act now. Learn more at: https://www.ceres.org/roadmap-assessment.

Note:.The author’s original article was published on May 21, 2014 by Know the Chain. It was updated on Sept. 8, 2016. Additional, detailed information about forced labor in supply chains is available in the Ceres case study Hidden in Plain Sight.

Read the post at Ceres