Why the UK Government Needs to Do More to Combat Modern Slavery
— January 28, 2019
By Michael Posner
Modern slavery is not limited to one person literally owning another, though in some isolated instances that still occurs. Rather, it takes on different forms, mostly involving various types of exploitative work, such as forced labor or debt bondage, where a person is coerced to work to pay off an onerous debt. The common thread is that vulnerable people are being forced to work in dehumanizing conditions through some form of compulsion or threat of abuse. In an increasingly globalized economy, where goods and services are routinely outsourced, and where global buyers compete on the basis of reduced production costs, millions of human beings are being trafficked against their will because they offer a source of cheap labor.
In 2015, the United Kingdom passed the Modern Slavery Act, becoming the first country in the world to compel companies to report on their efforts to combat these abhorrent practices. While this legislation was an initial, useful step forward, an Independent Review of the law by members of the U.K. Parliament has identified serious deficiencies in the act’s reporting framework. The gaps they noted are emblematic of the current challenges governments face in holding companies accountable for abuses in their global supply chains. More importantly, the reforms the British lawmakers propose offer other governments a practical road-map to address these exploitative labor practices in a truly effective
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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.