Academic journal article American University Law Review

Global Regulation of Corporate Conduct: Effective Pursuit of a Slave-Free Supply Chain

Academic journal article American University Law Review

Global Regulation of Corporate Conduct: Effective Pursuit of a Slave-Free Supply Chain

Article excerpt

"[W]e all know quite well that the enjoyment of human rights can also be threatened by non-State actors. Private persons may exercise a considerable constraint on other individuals. This fact is putting the State in a situation where it may have to intervene into the relations existing between the individuals, drawing limitations to their freedom to act."1


Slavery is not just the solitary act of one individual. In the economic sector, it can arise at various stations of production and distribution of goods and services. In the modern division of labor, creation and distribution of a product often requires cooperation of various entities, mostly commercial, from raw materials to finished merchandise-a socalled "supply chain."2 In a globalized economy wedded to the goal of minimizing labor costs, resource extraction, growth of farm products and livestock, as well as manufacturing as the beginning phases of the chain of supply are often moved to countries with substantially lower wages and fewer protections for workers and service providers. Too often, the labor conditions in these countries are nothing short of exploitative; in the aggregate, the abuse of labor in these mostly developing countries constitute the elements of modern slavery, i.e., trafficking in human beings. The most promising approach to staunching this problem effectively is to address the entity in control of the supply chain, i.e., the corporation, generally in highly developed countries, that sets up the chain of supply by outsourcing some of its parts.

In line with free market principles, the goal of generating goods and services free of slave labor has been pursued by appeals to the conscience of corporations, their self-restraint by voluntary codes, and the threat of consumer boycotts.3 There is an enormous number of entities that have been established to trace, explore, assess, analyze, conclude and report on the scope, magnitude, and effectiveness of corporate initiatives to protect vulnerable workers in their supply chains. This Article will evaluate the success of these efforts, although thorough research on this matter is difficult to undertake. Their sheer number, their uncountable websites and sub-sites, missions, visions, and projects also create a blurred, almost Kafkaesque, situation. It is hard to come out with a clear picture or understanding of what exactly corporations are doing to effectively end modern slavery in their supply chains and provide services and products that are free of slave labor. But the blame does not fall on these entities, often because it is difficult to ascertain empirically the internal workings of corporations.

The efforts made by a good number of corporations in this regard are not to be trivialized either. On the contrary, they are to be appreciated and commended for their voluntarism, in combating this battle. The proliferation of efforts toward building a supply chain free from questionable practices that have led to extreme abuse of workers' human rights and, even worse, to the facilitation of human trafficking by exacerbating the demand for cheap labor, products, and services, is indeed admirable. whether advocating for a human rights-based code of conduct or for the power of ethical consumerism, groups and movements indicative of social activism from various workers' organizations, religious organizations, humanitarian agencies, and private companies have all dealt with the issue of how corporations should address forced or exploitative labor in their chain of supply. To their credit and within the boundaries of their respective mandates, certain groups have been fairly successful in getting some big businesses to commit to tracing their supply chains and cutting ties with contractors accused of using the means of modern slavery.

The following questions arise and will be addressed in this Article. is reliance on consumer initiatives such as boycotts and labeling of products made free of slave labor the proper approach? …

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