Large multinational companies typically have corporate social responsibility programs to ensure that companies follow best practices in accordance with accepted standards and regulations. A CSR program often extends beyond national borders into portions of the company’s global supply chain, thus ensuring that the organization is meeting both national and international regulations and requirements for protecting the public and the environment. In addition to CSRs, sound safety management programs that go beyond mere legal compliance are necessary to guarantee the best value and benefit to all stakeholders. CSR programs need to address sustainability as well as social concerns. Many CSR programs include an evaluation of hazards and a provision of necessary protections for workers within the global supply chain. Workplace catastrophes such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 and the Apple computer worksite suicide epidemic in China in 2010 have brought to light many hazardous working conditions in companies used by large multinationals to support their production processes. Negative public relations campaigns as well as civil lawsuits brought forward on behalf of deceased workers by their families have motivated large corporations to remediate deficiencies in worker health and safety within their supply chains. Advanced CSR programs include various forms of ongoing surveillance, auditing, and periodic review. In addition to evaluating environmental and occupational protections, CSR auditors may also assess various social aspects and ethical conditions associated with a global supply chain. One key concern is the use of children to perform work within the supply chain. Individuals who write the protection policies for their companies’ supply chains need to identify the operations in which children may be allowed to work—and at what ages—in accordance with internationally accepted standards and laws. These same individuals must also be able to identify tasks and operations that should not be performed by children of any age—that is, tasks that are considered hazardous or that use toxic chemicals or physical agents to which children should not be exposed. Supply chain vendors must know the working conditions in which children can participate and for how long, and reviewers and auditors must understand the CSR program’s policies and guidelines, to conduct clear and effective audits of worksites and working conditions.
Now CSR programs must expand to prohibit the use of slaves within global supply chains. The number of slaves used in supply chains around the world has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2016, according to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 25 million people worked in forced labor servitude. Slavery is now understood to include any form of forced labor, forced marriage, forced sexual exploitation, forced recruitment into the armed services, human trafficking, and state-imposed labor. Forced labor, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an antipoverty organization based in the United Kingdom, includes physical harm, or the threat of physical harm, to the worker; restriction of movement and confinement; debt bondage; withholding of wages and wage reductions; retention of passports and identity documents; and the threat of denunciation of illegal status to relevant authorities. Workers who willingly consent to their loss of control—for example, those who become slaves to pay off a debt they have no hope of repaying—are also included in modern definitions of slavery. Slavery is found in a broad range of industries. According to ILO, the industries with the largest numbers of slaves are domestic work; construction; manufacturing; agriculture, forestry, and fishing; and accommodation and food services. Other industries that use slaves include wholesale and trade; personal services; and mining and quarrying.  Much about modern slavery remains unknown and unreported; human trafficking and slavery are mostly hidden crimes that take place within an underground economy, and neither perpetrators nor victims of slavery are likely to publicize their activities.
Human trafficking and modern slavery is a significant global trade—valued at between $32 billion and $44 billion per year—and results in significant losses of tax revenue to both home and host countries. The home countries’ economies suffer from the loss of healthy and productive workers. For host countries, workers brought in as slaves tend to eventually pose unexpected legal, medical, and social burdens for which the host country is ill prepared. Slavery also creates unfair competition within industries. A country that uses slaves for a significant portion of an industry gains an unfair business advantage over any nation that does not. Similarly, a global business that includes slaves within portions of its supply chain creates an unfair advantage against its competitors, which need to pay more for the labor of free workers. Therefore, it is in the best financial interest of businesses to know if their competitors use slave labor. Further, businesses that wish to follow basic legal, moral, and ethical principles—and that wish to assure their consumers the products they purchase do not involve slave labor—should ensure slavery does not exist within any portion of their supply chain.  
Regardless of whether slavery is entered into willingly as a business arrangement, the consequences and outcomes to slaves are typically negative in the long run. By losing control over their living and working conditions, slaves are often subjected to physical, sexual, and psychological violence. They live and work in hazardous conditions with poor sanitation and inadequate nutrition. Slaves performing perilous work are seldom provided appropriate safety training or adequate personal protective equipment. Generally, they are not part of an occupational medical surveillance or health service program. They tend not to receive timely or adequate medical treatment when they are injured; instead, they are likely to be relieved of their positions or sent back to their home countries to receive medical attention. Many slaves are children and teenagers who were sold off by their parents. Young girls who are trafficked for sex seldom attend or finish school; when they are released from the sex trade, they have no education and few work skills, and they are typically ignored by government systems or unaware of available social services in the new host country. Unwanted or “used” slaves are often prosecuted as criminals in judicial and law enforcement systems. 
Companies have an obligation to ensure that workers in all parts of their supply chains are not slaves. Slavery is illegal in all nations. Workers who condone slavery, or those who observe slavery and fail to report it, are subject to international tribunals and courts of international law and may be subject to severe criminal penalties. Organizations must ensure that their employees know the definitions of modern slavery, how to recognize it, and where to report it within the corporate structure. Vendors and suppliers too should know what constitutes slavery and what is accepted practice within the corporate supply chain. Some sources of information on modern slavery are discussed below.
Organizations must ensure that their employees know the definitions of modern slavery, how to recognize it, and where to report it within the corporate structure.
Global Reporting Initiative
The Global Reporting Initiative is an independent international organization that has pioneered corporate social responsibility and sustainability since 1997. GRI develops guidance for organizations worldwide to help them understand critical sustainability topics such as climate change, human rights, and social well-being. GRI sets sustainability reporting standards to promote accountability in multinational corporations and organizations. According to GRI, 93 percent of the world’s largest 250 companies publicly report their sustainability performance.  The GRI document “409: Forced or Compulsory Labor 2016,” in conjunction with other management and reporting standards, sets requirements for organizations to ensure they meet international standards regarding slavery. Companies are expected to “prevent and combat” all forms of forced or compulsory labor within their operations and to avoid being linked to forced slave labor through relationships with suppliers or clients. 
United Nations
The United Nations Global Compact is a voluntary system designed to align organizations’ strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, and the environment. The system calls for the “elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor.” More than 9,500 participating companies in over 160 countries have committed to the compact’s goals for sustainable development and to reporting progress on human rights and sustainability. The compact’s goals include the elimination of forced labor and development of legitimate work in global supply chains. Through webinars, documents, and other resources, the compact educates companies about slavery in supply chains and how to eliminate it.
Modern Slavery Act
In 2015 the United Kingdom published the Modern Slavery Act, which prohibits conditions or activities regarding human trafficking and slavery in Great Britain. The act has expanded the understanding of modern slavery and stipulates penalties for those who benefit from human trafficking and modern slavery within the borders of the U.K. Clause 54 of the Modern Slavery Act requires corporations with turnover exceeding £36 million to have policies and programs in place to ensure that slavery practices do not occur within their global supply chains. It also requires these companies to issue annual statements describing their programs and the status of antislavery activities. According to the Business and Human Rights Reporting Center, few companies have fully complied with the reporting requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, and only a handful of leading companies are rigorously demonstrating action to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. Independent studies of slavery in the supply chains of U.K.-based organizations have indicated that slavery remains a problem in many firms. One study reported that 71 percent of companies surveyed believed that slavery still existed within their supply chains. 
Despite its consequences, modern slavery is generally accepted and condoned by society because its negative effects are neither publicized nor understood. More research is needed on the working conditions and experiences of slaves. The economic and social consequences of slavery need to be clarified and reported. The underlying conditions—including occupational injuries and illnesses—in host and home countries that lead to the growth of slavery need to be studied and reported on more broadly. Better understanding and greater awareness of slavery would motivate organizations to become involved in antislavery activities. Training CSR employees, social workers, health care personnel, and law enforcement officers is key to developing and implementing antislavery programs. Where corporations and governments have been lax on the matter of slavery, many nongovernmental organizations have become active: Walk Free Foundation, Unchosen, and Childline provide timely information and lists of countries, regions, and organizations known to be involved in slavery operations. Real-life stories, experiences, and reenactments have been shown to go a long way to help raise awareness, understanding, and sympathy for people caught up in the various forms of forced labor, human trafficking, and modern slavery. The public, managers, and employees (including industrial hygienists) need to better understand modern slavery and their roles in combating it within their organizations and communities.   
is an associate professor in the College of Applied Science and Technology at Illinois State University. He can be reached via
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Historical definitions of slavery
A New Role for Corporate Social Responsibility Programs

ENDING Modern Slavery