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Concerns raised about modern slavery in supply chains

4th October 2019

By: Kim Cloete

Creamer Media Correspondent


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Lawyers and activists have warned about the rising modern global slave trade, saying that millions of modern slavery victims are exploited in global supply chains.

They are enslaved across the spectrum, from farming, domestic work and construction to clothing factories, mines, the beauty industry and the cleaning industry, says Australia-based legal expert Frazer Hunt.  

He told the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (Fiata) World Congress 2019 in Cape Town that modern slavery goes beyond the definition of dangerous or substandard working conditions. A modern slave cannot refuse or cease work, because of coercion, threats or deception. They may also be deprived of their personal freedom.

A special session at the Fiata Congress, which brought together leaders in the freight and logistics industry, called on people to be vigilant and aware of vulnerable people across the value chain.

Narit Gessler of global nongovernmental organisation, Free the Slaves, said modern slavery across the supply chain was far more common than people thought.

“If you bought a shirt for $5, go back to the supplier, the manufacturer, the factory worker and the cotton picker. The chances are good that you have had modern slavery in your supply chain,” she told delegates.

“It’s in the food we eat and the clothes we wear.”

Free the Slaves says slavery generates $150-billion for traffickers every year. About 70% of the 40-million people who are enslaved, are women. Some ten-million children under the age of 18 are enslaved, with many of them forced to work in factories and in mines.

Debt bondage, forced marriage and sex slavery, are other forms of modern slavery.

Gessler said she was seeing a rise in the number of young people who were concerned about modern slavery and wanted to see a legal crackdown.  

Australia has introduced a Modern Slavery Act to combat modern slavery. While there are no penalties for noncompliance yet, the government can single out companies that are not complying and they will be "named and shamed". Large companies have to prepare annual Modern Slavery statements, map out their organisations and identify the risks, said Hunt. 

“Key to this is collaboration between governments, business and civil society.”

California has also introduced similar legislation.

Hunt said more people could be liberated from slavery by boosting business awareness, improving workplace practices and spreading the message among consumers, investors and business partners.  

Katie Modrau, the South African country manager of nongovernmental organisation, A21, said people who were unemployed and poverty-stricken were particularly susceptible to modern slavery.

“Modern slavery victims have one thing in common . . . their vulnerability. They are promised a better life and an opportunity that is too good to be true. These are the people exploited by modern slavery.”

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, 54% of South Africans were vulnerable to human trafficking schemes.

Gessler also highlighted this week’s news that products from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, China, Malaysia and Brazil were seized by the US at its borders, as they were believed to be linked to forced labour violations.

In a statement this week, the US Customs and Border Protection said it had started an investigation following complaints from the public and other sources. The authority had issued a Withhold Release Order for the five products, which include diamonds from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe and gold from artisanal small mines in the eastern DRC. The Marange mines have been accused of forced labour and human rights abuses in the past.

The Fiata Congress was held in Cape Town this week.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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