US immigration policy 'creating slavery risk'

9 March 2017

The US government’s hard line on immigration has emerged as one of the major creators of human rights risks for businesses in 2017, according to a report.

Hardening immigration policy in the US is increasing the risk of labour abuses as it pushes undocumented workers “under the radar”, according to global risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft’s Human Rights Outlook 2017.

Eight million undocumented migrant workers will face stricter deportation rules that will push them further underground, while a border wall between the US and Mexico would increase criminal tracking fees.

This would be likely to leave migrants more deeply in debt and more vulnerable to exploitation, the report said.

Mandatory reporting requirements on modern slavery and supply chain are bringing human rights risks closer to home for businesses, the report found.

Companies sourcing within the US that have traditionally focused auditing priorities on less mature markets may now need to refocus on the US because of the increasing likelihood of human rights risks there, said the report.

And the report also warned that companies focusing human rights due diligence on production of raw materials and manufacturing are creating supply chain blind spots.

Modern slavery blind spots, which are likely to be found in areas such as shipping, cleaning, catering and security also featured among the top human rights risks for businesses.

The risk of migrant labour exploitation is already considered ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ in the production of fruit in Florida and California.

The increasing insecurity of America’s underclass of migrant workers is likely to shift the whole country into the 'high-risk' category in Verisk Maplecroft’s Modern Slavery Index.

“The seafarers who transport 80% of global trade, truckers and workers in warehouses, are mostly invisible in supply chains, despite being highly vulnerable to modern slavery and other labour rights abuses,” said the report.

Human rights risk assessments are also likely to forget low skilled workers in services such as cleaning, security and catering.

However, seafarers are particularly at risk of modern slavery because they lack state protection.

Meanwhile, banks that finance land deals in emerging markets are increasingly at risk of becoming part of land grabs and forced evictions.

Commodities such as palm oil, sugar cane, rubber and bio fuels are driving a global rush for land, but companies not undertaking proper due diligence of land deals they are funding could become associated with land grabs.

The report found UK banks were particularly at risk of this. Verisk Maplecroft’s Land and Property Rights Index found that 17 of the top 20 countries where UK firms were investing in land deals presented a high or extreme risk.

And with mandatory human rights due diligence on supply chains expanding, particularly in Europe, the potential costs for companies of failing to conduct such due diligence are rising.

Laws such as the French Duty of Care law (Le Devoir de Vigilance), the Dutch Due Diligence Child Labour Law and the pending Swiss Responsible Business Initiative will force more businesses to implement human rights due diligence in their supply chains.

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