CFC Sponsored New Law Curbs Human Trafficking Through Greater Transparency

A new law co-sponsored by Consumer Federation of California will enable consumers, investors, and businesses to use their purchasing power to combat slavery and human trafficking.

SB 657 (Steinberg), the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, is the nation’s first law designed to expose the working conditions hidden behind name brand manufacturers and retailers. Beginning in 2012, retailers and manufacturers with more than $100 million in annual gross receipts doing business in California must describe on their websites what steps, if any, they take to ensure their product supply chains are free of slave labor and human trafficking.

The Human Trafficking Crisis

Today, 12.3 million people work in some form of forced labor worldwide. Of those, 2.5 million people are estimated to have been trafficked across borders illegally. Between 14,500 and 17,500 human trafficking victims are brought into the US each year ‘ forcibly, or through trickery.

Lured with promises of good jobs, they end up captives, isolated and controlled by guards. With limited English language skills, they work in wretched conditions, unable to communicate with law enforcement and others who might be able to help them.

California is among the top destinations for traffickers and forced labor in the United States. About half the victims are enslaved for sexual exploitation. The remainder work in sweatshops, domestic service or agriculture.

Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, according to the US State Department. Most victims are trafficked into the US from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe.

Research by the Human Rights Center at the University of California found 57 forced labor operations between 1998 and 2003 throughout California. These operations ‘ mostly in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose ‘ involved more than 500 victims from 18 countries. Many more go unnoticed.

The SB 657 Solution

Slave labor contributes to many products carrying popular manufacturer and retailer name brands. Toys, electronics, computers, clothing, even American automobiles, contain components produced under conditions of abject exploitation. Some corporations shirk responsibility when they contract the production or assembly of their products to suppliers in low wage countries where slavery goes unchecked, claiming that their supplier’s abysmal conditions are beyond their control or knowledge.

SB 657 requires major retail sellers and manufacturers to describe on company websites their voluntary efforts to eliminate slavery and trafficking from their own direct suppliers. With this data, consumers and investors can put our purchasing power to work to eradicate human misery from store shelves, by rewarding companies that are role models for combating slavery.

Specifically, the new law requires big companies to tell us:

‘  If they evaluate product supply chains for risks of slavery and trafficking.
‘  If they conduct audits of suppliers.
‘  If they have internal accountability for employees and contractors failing to
meet company standards.
‘  If they provide employees and management with responsibility for supply chains
training on slavery and trafficking.

The Consumer Federation of California, the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking co-sponsored SB 657. The bill had support from human rights organizations, labor, law enforcement, and socially responsible investing firms. CFC’s Richard Holober joined Governor Schwarzenegger at a SB 657 bill signing ceremony at the Museum of Tolerance in LA.

Lobbyists representing retailers, grocery chains, manufacturers and high tech industries opposed the bill.