One of the revelations made in the Trafficking in Persons Report was that Cuba and Malaysia have moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watchlist despite the fact that their governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking. The Report however stated that both countries were making significant efforts to combat human trafficking.
The news also follows the recent restoration of formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.
Cuba was rated as a Tier 3 country since 2003, with the United States often alleging since then that the island nation’s communist authorities coerced its citizens to work abroad on government-backed projects.
However, since presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the ceasing of hostilities and normalisation of relations in December 2014, a number of steps have been taken to improve the relationship between the countries. These include removing Cuba from a list of countries that the United States believes sponsor terrorism.
United States Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall told the BBC that Cuba had made progress in combating sex trafficking but that it had failed to adequately address forced labour.
Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington DC on 20 July, while the United States embassy in Havana reopened in mid-August.
Human rights groups meanwhile have heavily criticised the decision by the United States to promote Malaysia to Tier 2 Watchlist status, arguing that it is not justified and discredits the Report.
Although the Southeast Asian nation was downgraded on the Report last year due to alleged abuses in its fishing industry, Sewall said that Malaysia had since increased its investigations and prosecutions on human trafficking.
Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Belize are among those countries on the lowest rank of the Report.
An opportunity to lead
The Trafficking in Persons Report confirms that efforts to combat human trafficking around the world have advanced steadily over the last 15 years, since adoption of the Palermo protocols and passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. It describes government progress in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, providing protection and services to victims, and implementing remediation measures as ‘nothing short of profound’.
Despite such progress, the fight against human trafficking continues. It exists in formal and informal labour markets of both lawful and illicit industries, and it affects skilled and unskilled workers from a spectrum of educational backgrounds.
Traffickers target vulnerable workers to fill labour shortages anywhere along a supply chain. In the electronics sector, for example, human trafficking may exist in the extractive stages (mining for raw material), in the component manufacturing stage (where separate pieces are produced or combined), and in the production stage (where goods are assembled and packaged in a factory).
Responsibility for addressing human trafficking in supply chains falls on everyone – from governments to the private sector to individuals. Beyond the efforts of governments and individuals, companies have an opportunity to lead in this area by respecting the rights of those who work to make their businesses successful.
As noted in Issue 16 of Compliance Insider®, the following are steps that companies should take to effectively manage the risks that are inherent with suppliers:
- Understand your supply chain
- Validate and review supplier categories for certain risks at least annually
- Collect information from suppliers on high-risk areas
- Conduct due diligence
- Invest in helping your suppliers
- Seek certifications from suppliers
- Document and communicate your policies on human trafficking
- Train your people on what to look for
- Conduct real audits
- Prepare your PR machine
- Report out.
With regards to policies on human trafficking, the Report states that companies should ‘address the common risks in their operations and supply chains, ensure workers have the right to fair compensation and redress, train staff to understand the indicators of human trafficking, and put remediation plans in place before any allegations arise to allow for appropriate corrective action’.
In order to better understand the often-difficult conditions under which many employees work, companies should also work with government officials, non-governmental organisations, and recruiters in the countries where they source.
According to the Report, a clear and comprehensive anti-trafficking policy should:
- prohibit human trafficking and those activities that facilitate it – including charging workers recruitment fees, contract fraud and document retention
- respond to industry- or region-specific risks
- require freedom of movement for workers
- pay all employees at least the minimum wage in all countries of operation, preferably a living wage
- include a grievance mechanism and whistleblower protections
- apply to direct employees as well as subcontractors, labour recruiters and other business partners
- include an enforcement mechanism that is applied throughout the company’s supply chain.
Promoting best practice
Securing the approval and buy-in of senior executives is vital to the successful promotion of policies on human trafficking. The more proactive they can be, the more certain employees, business partners, investors and consumers will be that human trafficking will not be tolerated by the company.
In order to secure buy-in and help the company gain control, senior executives need to understand how supply chains operate, where key suppliers are located, and what working conditions exist in those locations and sectors. This requires the completion of a risk assessment, after which companies can then address problem areas, implement corrective measures and monitor and enforce anti-trafficking policies.
According to the Report, monitoring can often take the form of social auditing, ‘which – when done properly – can help to detect violations of company policies, including worker abuse’. And yet, however thorough, comprehensive and periodic the audits, human trafficking can still be difficult for auditors to detect.
Companies can play an active role here by making sure that auditors are properly trained and equipped to seek out known indicators of human trafficking, such as fraudulent recruitment practices.
Finally, the Trafficking in Persons Report also cautions companies against applying too much downward pressure on costs, arguing that it ‘can have a destabilising effect on the proactive measures a company may take to prevent human trafficking’.
If companies are able to incorporate anti-trafficking measures throughout their operations – including in company budgets, training, policies and protocols – they can help ensure that the dignity of workers throughout the supply chain is not sacrificed for higher profits.
The Trafficking in Persons Report has been released annually since 2001 and rates countries on a tiered system, including (from best to worst) Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watchlist, and Tier 3. The Report is prepared using information from United States embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organisations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and information submitted to the Department of State. The Report covers government efforts undertaken from 1 April 2014 through 31 March 2015.