A bill introduced recently by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), would require large companies to report on and eliminate forced labor in their supply chains.
Although not likely to pass in its present form, the initiative is evidence of rising interest among policymakers in confronting and rooting out modern slavery in countries that export products to western nations, including the economic giant dependent on such exports, China.
Called the Slave-Free Business Certification Act, it would require chief executive officers of companies with annual gross receipts exceeding $500 million to certify that their companies’ supply chains do not rely on forced labor, and it creates substantial penalties for violating these requirements.
“Corporate America and the celebrities that hawk their products have been playing this game for a long time — talk up corporate social responsibility and social justice at home while making millions of dollars off the slave labor that assembles their products,” Hawley said. “Executives build ‘woke’ progressive brands for American consumers, but happily outsource labor to Chinese concentration camps, all just to save a few bucks.”
Reports about human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang led the Trump Administration to authorize the seizure of textile imports from that region (AA, 12-31-19, P. 5). The U.S. took similar action in July against the top Malaysian medical glove producer over forced labor concerns.
Legislation efforts requiring private businesses to conduct adequate and transparent due diligence and to address human rights abuses are likely to grow, note Jesse Medlong and Eva Schueller, attorneys with the DLA Piper law firm. “Global enterprises that can meet these challenges ahead of regulatory requirements and proactively root out violations will establish a strong foundation for their long-term success.”