Governments must step up fight against modern-day slavery, says US secretary of state John Kerry

10 February 2015

US secretary of state John Kerry has called on governments and companies to do more to tackle human trafficking in supply chains.

Speaking at the White House Forum on Combating Human Trafficking in Supply Chains, Kerry said it was “one of the largest criminal enterprises on earth today”, with more than 20 million victims globally. He said perpetrators were often allowed to act with impunity and governments and companies needed to do more to help fight it.

“One of the greatest zones of impunity is in the supply chains,” he said. “The sources of the problem include individuals desperate for work, unscrupulous labour brokers who lie to recruit those workers, companies greedy for profits who turn a blind eye to abuses, and customers looking to just save that extra dollar or two without regard to what the implications of those savings may be."

He added: “If governments want responsible businesses to compete on a level playing field, then we need to address this problem head on.”

Speaking of women and children enslaved as domestic workers, or working for companies at sub-wages and abusive condition, Kerry called on companies to expand their knowledge and understanding of how their workers are recruited.

“It’s really easy to find out,” he said. “They have to provide contracts to each of their employees, legal contracts that comply with U.S. and local laws and international norms, and we have to make that the norm for companies all across the world, and they must comply with their obligations and make available safe grievance mechanisms so that employees can report abuses in the workplace without fear of retribution.”

Governments can lead the way in ensuring that suppliers and contractors are held to the highest standards, Kerry said. And companies can enforce regulations against human trafficking throughout their supply chains, from the production of raw materials, recruitment, contracting and subcontracting through to the final product.

Kerry cited the US presidential directive for federal contractors and subcontractors as an example of how governments could fight trafficking. The executive order prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from deceiving employees about key terms and conditions of employment, and it also prohibits federal contracts from charging employees recruitment fees and denying them access to identity documents.

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