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The UK returns to the fight to abolish slavery, but where is the US?

As you read this today, there is mounting evidence that tens of millions of people are trapped in modern-day slavery. While much of the press focuses on the heinous acts surrounding sex trafficking, manifestations of modern-day slavery can be found in most people’s own households: from your toothpaste to your tablet, goods all of us use every day are often produced far from where they are bought, successively changing hands along complex and opaque supply chains that all too frequently involve forced and bonded labor and human trafficking that are modern-day slavery.

It was for this reason that four years ago, the California Assembly passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (California Senate Bill 657). This groundbreaking legislation requires retailers and manufacturers with global revenues that exceed $100 million and do business in California to publicly disclose the degree, if any, to which they are addressing forced labor and human trafficking in their systems of supply.

The act, which took effect in January 2012, is now starting to change the conversation. Last year, Humanity United along with a range of partners started KnowTheChain, a website that tracks corporations and how well they are complying with this act. The site’s objective is to promote greater transparency and dialogue around issues of slavery in supply chains. And in its first 12 months, we have heard interest from investors, consumers and journalists, in addition to direct engagement with companies, leading to improved transparency statements and practices.

Additionally, the act is having an impact beyond California’s borders, most recently in the United Kingdom. With California Senate Bill 657 as a model, the U.K. government may add similar measures to a new law that Parliament is considering on modern-day slavery, though it has not yet formally committed to do so. Recently, Karen Bradley, the U.K. minister for modern-day slavery and organized crime, publicly stated that the government wanted to add provisions that will require large companies to disclose how they are trying to avoid using slavery in their supply chains. As in California, this added transparency will help consumers and investors in the U.K. make informed decisions about the goods they buy and the companies they want to support.

However, the exact scope of the proposal by Her Majesty’s Government remains unclear. The government intends to consult with the business community to determine the contours of the requirements. Consulting with business is important, but I hope the government also hears from civil society in determining what would have the most impact. In particular, I hope the government includes the service industry as well as manufacturers, which would be a step forward and show leadership by the United Kingdom. The need for a comprehensive approach is even further highlighted by reports from the front lines of the fight against modern-day slavery in the United Kingdom that the scale of labor trafficking there may be even greater than sex trafficking, a finding that all governments around the globe should reflect upon.

The United States, through its federal government, also needs to catch up to California and the United Kingdom. As large as California is, its law does not reach all companies, nor does it cover certain sectors or include enforcement measures. The U.S. Congress should act to establish a federal standard on transparency in the fight to combat modern-day slavery, such as a bill introduced in June by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014 (H.R. 4842). This bill, like the others, is simply pressing for disclosure of efforts so that consumers can make an informed decision about the products they buy.

While disclosure statements targeted by these laws are an important first step, the greater goal is to encourage all companies to go beyond basic compliance and take meaningful action to combat slavery within their supply chains. They need to understand that consumers and investors want this information, and that doing more will not only enhance their brand but can improve their business.

No one in the Untied States wants to buy slave-made goods. The U.S. Congress should follow the U.K. and California’s lead and give us a choice not to.

Abramowitz is vice president for policy and government relations at Humanity United, a U.S.-based foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom.

Source: The Hill

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