California implements anti-slavery law

by Natalia Real, FIS World News

California has become the first US state to require major retailers and manufacturers in the state to publicly describe their efforts to eliminate forced labour and human trafficking from their chains of supply and distribution. Several countries that export seafood are suspected to manufacture their products via child and/or forced labour, according to the US Department of Labour (DOL).

The California Supply Chain Transparency Act, which came into effect on 1 January, applies to companies with sales of USD 100 million or more in California and affects retailers and manufacturers of consumer products including fishery items.

According to a DOL document, child and/or forced labour related to the seafood industry takes place in the following countries: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand (shrimp);  El Salvador and Nicaragua (shellfish); Honduras (lobster); Tanzania (nile perch), Ghana (tilapia); and Bangladesh (dried fish).

The move involves about 3,200 firms, according to California’s Franchise Tax Board. Every November starting in 2012, the California Franchise Tax Board will offer a complete list of firms that must comply with the new law to the state Attorney General, Trustlaw reports.

Companies must publicly and prominently display relevant information on their Web site or in writing upon request, according to The National Law Journal.

The law was sponsored by California State Senator Darrell Steinberg and co-sponsored by the Coalition to Abolish Slavery (CAST), the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET) and the Consumer Federation of California.

While the new law does not yet impose penalties on companies that do not comply, it initially aims to give consumers information on how the items they purchase are produced so they can make educated shopping decisions.

The list of products under consideration includes items as diverse as sugarcane, garments, bamboo, precious metals and pornography.

Rod Pacheco, a Los Angeles-based partner with the law firm SNR Denton and a former district attorney of Riverside County, believes it is unclear how large the trafficking problem is in terms of goods sold in California.

‘I don’t know how widespread it is because it exists more as a black market enterprise. I know it involves a lot of illegal immigrants,’ Pacheco told.

Full details of reporting requirements are still being completed, but the basic information required from businesses includes:

    Proving conclusively that no human trafficking or slavery was involved at any level of the supply chain
    Conducting regular audits of suppliers to ensure compliance with company standards regarding trafficking or slavery
    Requiring direct suppliers to check that materials used in products abide by trafficking and slavery laws of the countries where they do business
    Maintaining internal accountability mechanisms for employees and contractors
    Providing training in awareness of human trafficking and slavery for all employees