There are slaves in your supply chain. Yes, you read that right. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) there are more than 20 million forced laborers around the world today. And it is likely that some of those slaves work for you or your suppliers.
Recent high-profile cases have uncovered forced labor in nearly every industry from conflict minerals from the Congo that have made their way into our most common high-tech devices to indentured servitude in commercial fishing in New Zealand to child laborers in the cocoa and coffee industries in Latin America and Africa.
Slave labor knows no boundaries. And it occurs in the most surprising of places – even our own backyard. Case in point: one of the world’s largest food service companies dumped one of its major tomato suppliers in Florida when it uncovered that it was holding workers without pay and against their will between harvesting seasons so that the migrant workers wouldn’t leave.
Forced labor is an equal opportunity offender. And it can’t be ignored. The Dodd-Frank Act, enacted in 2012, mandates that companies determine whether their sub-tier suppliers are sourcing vital minerals like tantalum, tin, gold, or tungsten from war-torn central Africa. UK officials have already begun prosecuting violators of “modern day slavery” rules they passed in 2010. The White House has committed to stepping up policing of anti-slavery measures already on the books and to updating federal acquisition regulation (FAR). And the State Department recently recently hosted an event at which leaders from some of the world’s most recognizable brands were called on to share solutions to root out and mitigate what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described as “the single greatest challenge of our generation.”
What can businesses do to eradicate slave labor? Plenty. Chances are good you’re reading this on a mobile device after pulling it from one of the newsfeeds you subscribe to. You may even be riding in a cab that you hailed using Uber after paying the check with your mobile wallet at a restaurant you booked through OpenTable. There’s no doubt networks have made our personal lives easier. They can also help tackle some of the most pressing issues of our day. The social networks we use to keep up with the latest news and activities of our friends and family, for instance, have been used to topple corrupt regimes and instill Democracy.
Empowered by open and transparent business networks, companies can eradicate forced labor from the supply chain. The power of networks lies in their ability to connect people and enable the sharing of information in massively scalable ways. Just like Amazon or Netflix uses the information on their network to give members ratings and guidance on which books, products, or films to buy, business networks can provide recommendations on what to source, when, and from which suppliers and deliver a new level of transparency into supplier capabilities, performance, and social and environmentally responsible practices.
Companies using such networks can, for instance, be alerted to potential future risks in their supply chain by triangulating a myriad of inputs – like performance ratings, payment history, etc. We also offer up alternative sources of supply to help mitigate these risks.
They can get a view into what’s going into their products through non-profit organizations like Made in a Free World. Dedicated to ridding all supply chains of forced labor, the non-profit has created an incredibly powerful database that maps the bill of materials of countless number of products and services – from cell phones and hand-held electronics to fish and agriculture – right down to raw materials and labor inputs and cross-references this information with hotspots where there is a high propensity for the use of forced and child labor risks.
And more important, they can access a framework for doing something about it. Working together with Ariba, an SAP company, and procurement leaders from some of the world’s largest corporations and government agencies, Made in a Free World has developed a series of playbooks designed to help companies detect forced labor in their supply chains and take action to remediate it.
Made in a Free World founder Justin Dillion knows that talking about slavery in the supply chain is a dicey proposition. Many companies decline to participate in conversations or share insights and intelligence that could be used to help solve the problem, fearing they will get beat up for doing so. And for them, Dillon offers the following advice: “Get over it. We’re here to help you be the hero.”
In harnessing the connectivity and intelligence of networks, businesses can make better and more informed decisions that make the world a better place. And this isn’t just a huge opportunity. It’s a responsibility.
This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.