On April 5, 2011, STR Responsible Sourcing held a Multi-stakeholder Roundtable in Los Angeles to discuss the implementation of The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. As one of the presenters at this Roundtable, Kay Buck, Executive Director of the CA-based not-for-profit organization Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, shared her comments on modern-day slavery and human trafficking:
Kay Buck started her presentation with an overview of the origins of CAST – referencing the El Monte Sweatshop Case; a case in 1995 where 72 Thai garment workers, mostly young women, were found to be enslaved, in some cases up to a period of 8 years. Kay pointed out, that since then, there have been many more cases of slavery or human trafficking in the U.S. Most recently, over 400 Thai farm workers were identified to be working under exploitative conditions on pineapple farms in Hawaii. Slavery and human trafficking cases are not only abroad but within the U.S. She emphasized that human trafficking and slavery is happening everywhere—including our backyard in the US.
According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the Department of State, 12.3 million people are victims of modern day slavery today. Another statistic from Free The Slaves notes that 27 million persons are in slave-like conditions today. And according to the Congressional Research Service as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the USA on a yearly basis.
Since its establishment in 1998, CAST has handled over 350 cases of slavery and human trafficking. In the Los Angeles area, there have been cases of sex slavery, domestic servitude, and sweatshop labor in agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and assisted living establishments.
As a coalition, CAST not only represents survivors of slavery and human trafficking but also consumers. In the last 5 years, there has been a rise in demand by consumers to know if the products they buy were derived from any exploitation. Together with the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET), CAST co-sponsored the California Transparency in Supply Chains bill – a bill driven by consumer demand and coined as a consumer empowerment bill.
In closing, Kay underlined that CAST does not have any illusions of the Act ending slavery in supply chains. However, CAST envisions this as an opportunity to create open dialogue between the business community and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the future, in partnership with companies, amendments to the Act can be made or additional bills could be introduced to bring about further engagement by the business community and collaboration with NGOs to further mutual goals as it relates to responsible sourcing and human rights. The anti-slavery movement is gaining a great deal of recognition and momentum similar to the progression of the Green Movement for environmental justice issues; it is worth exploration of ways the business and NGO communities can work together.
Special thanks to Kay Buck from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking for participating in our roundtable.