Combating global slavery: A new approach

When Rani Hong was 7 years old she was kidnapped and enslaved in her home country of India. When she wasn’t forced to work, her captors kept her in a cage.

Woman speaking into microphone (© JC McIlwaine/U.N.)
Rani Hong, trafficking survivor, testifying at the U.N. in 2013. She also spoke in 2018. (© JC McIlwaine/U.N.)

“My captors abused and tortured me in the name of making a profit,” Hong said during a September 24 panel session on human trafficking during the 73rd U.N. General Assembly. “I was the bottom of the supply chain.”

More than 25 million people are in forced labor around the world; 16 million of those in the private economy, according to the International Labour
Organization. From agriculture to electronics to clothing, modern slavery touches almost every part of our lives.

Human trafficking is prevalent in many global supply chains and can be difficult to identify and address. To help combat this, the governments of United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom announced a set of Principles To Guide Government Action To Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains.

Person in headscarf standing in front of fence covered in red leaves (© Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman from Iraq’s Yazidi community who was formerly enslaved by the Islamic State (© Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

“This initiative is a tremendous opportunity to heighten our effectiveness and refocus our work on the harsh realities of trafficking that only survivors can fully understand,” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said.

The principles provide a framework for governments to prevent and address human trafficking in global supply chains by looking at their own procurement practices and encouraging the private sector to do the same in its own supply chains. Also crucial: sharing information and harmonizing policies.

The initiative highlights the critical roles that both government and the business community play.

“Effectively combating trafficking in supply chains requires strategic cooperation with civil society and most importantly, the business community,” Sullivan said.  He said the new principles complement “promising efforts underway in the private sector to discourage forced labor.”

Auditorium filled with people watching speakers (State Dept.)
Human trafficking “is a massive industry that nets about $150 billion in annual profits,” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said during the 73rd U.N. General Assembly. (State Dept.)

One company taking action is Walmart Inc., the world’s largest retailer. “We need to disrupt the system of these complex labor networks where traffickers have been able to thrive and been able to recruit people into systems though misinformation and coercion,” Anbinh Phan, the global director of government affairs at Walmart, said during the panel session.

Sullivan also announced additional funds to support the State Department’s Program to End Modern Slavery, bringing the total investment in the program to $75 million dollars.