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Using Your Consumer Power to Eradicate Human Trafficking

California’s Supply Chain Transparency Act

The Supply Chain Transparency Act (SB 657) was signed into law September 30, 2010, in California by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The act requires retailers and manufacturers in California with worldwide gross receipts in excess of 100 million dollars—about 3,000 retailers—to report publicly their steps (or lack thereof) to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chain.

The act creates a mechanism for consumers to compare company efforts regarding forced labor and human trafficking, allowing individuals to make informed decisions that connect their values and their spending. The Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET) was instrumental in shepherding this act through the California legislature.

“This bill reflects the realities of the marketplace, which increasingly requires that companies be sensitive to social and ethical issues, including labor and supply chains, and create human rights policies as well as processes to evaluate, monitor and strengthen those policies,” said Julie Tanner, Assistant Director of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) at CBIS. 

According to Drew Liebert, Chief Counsel to the California Assembly Judiciary Committee, “Large business entities must make available to consumers information about whatever these business’s voluntary efforts are, including none, to eradicate slavery and human trafficking that could inadvertently be in their product supply chains; that is, the bill does not in fact require the specified large businesses to do anything other than make available the facts about what if anything they are doing to deter human trafficking and slavery in their product supply chains. The bill leaves it to consumers to decide whether and how, if at all, they wish to use such information in their purchasing decisions.”

As of January 1, 2012, consumers can go to a company’s website to view the company’s information regarding their efforts to remove slavery and human trafficking from their supply chain. If the company does not maintain a website then consumers can request a written disclosure to be mailed to them 30 days from the request.

While no monitoring body has yet been established, the California attorney general is authorized to seek injunctive relief if a company does not comply. Based on tax returns filed, the California Franchise Tax Board will make available to the attorney general each year a list of retail sellers and manufacturers required to disclose their efforts. It is expected that interest groups will access and use a noncompliant company’s disclosure to put public pressure on the company to modify its practices.

California Senator Darrell Steinberg, a co-sponsor of the bill, believes, “with better transparency, Californians can now ensure they do not promote and sanction these heinous crimes through the purchase of everyday items that have tainted supply chains. This is a simple measure that has the potential to change behavior in a way that will save lives and encourage humane working conditions not just here in California but throughout the world.”

Ohio passed a bill December 8, 2010 (SB 235) that makes human trafficking a stand-alone felony offense with stronger penalties for abduction and kidnapping if they involve involuntary servitude. The bill also creates an offense for falsifying or destroying government identification documents for the purpose of trafficking or involuntary servitude and incorporates human trafficking into Ohio’s conspiracy and wiretapping laws. Governor Ted Strickland signed this bill into law on December 23, 2010.

A federal version of the California law is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives next year by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). She said this proposed bill, titled Slavery Prevention Supply Chains Act, will “allow consumers to make better, more informed choices and motivate businesses to ensure humane practices throughout the supply chain,” adding, “This is one step in a multi-pronged approach to attacking a horrific problem that plagues the world but is found right here in our own back yards. With increased knowledge, consumers can let their opinions on human slavery be known through their pocketbooks.” 

Some of the same supply chain tracking issues addressed in California’s SB 657 is being put to practice nationwide due to the Dodd-Frank Act, which passed in July 2010. It requires that all companies using “conflict minerals” (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) from parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo must report the steps they are taking to verify that the income from these minerals were not taxed or used to fund rebel groups. The “conflict minerals” are commonly found in household electronics—laptops, flat screen television, ballpoint pens, drill bits, etc.—as well as in jewelry and airplane parts.

Although businesses have argued that the lands in Eastern Congo are constantly in flux and tracing the minerals will prove to be too tricky, companies that can show that their products contain minerals that don’t benefit the rebel groups will be permitted to sell them as “DRC Conflict Free.” Companies that fail to verify their sources can still sell the products but not with the labels. This will allow consumers to make the ultimate choice of where to spend their money. Companies must start complying with the law in 2012.


Action

  • Organize with other advocates to pass a version of SB 657 in your state.
  • Join our Intercept the Traffickers campaign.
  • Make moral spending choices that promote the elimination of human trafficking.
  • Read Resolution 6021 from the Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (Nashville, Tenn.: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008) titled “Church Supports Global Efforts to End Slavery,” p. 729. 
Last Updated: 04/17/2014
 
 

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