Issues of forced labor and human trafficking for labor have gained increasing attention, as well they should. Earlier this month, a leading international agency – The International Organization for Migration – reported that it handled 43 percent more labor trafficking cases in 2011 than just three years before.
This spring, I have had the opportunity to join several discussions between law enforcement officials, policy makers, human rights advocates, and businesses on ways to share information and resources to help tackle the problem of labor trafficking and forced labor.
· Earlier this month, the National Association of Attorneys General convened a two-day workshop as part of an initiative by current NAAG President and Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna to unite efforts to address a range of trafficking-related crimes. I presented to the group on some of the ways that Microsoft and others in our industry work to prevent labor trafficking in our supply chain. Among the striking points of the discussion was the scope of the problem, which can range from an individual exploiting a recent immigrant from their home country to much more organized efforts by criminal gangs. In a few extreme cases, there are even examples of government conscripted labor to harvest cotton or other perishable crops.
· Another key learning: instances of human trafficking and forced labor aren’t limited to developing countries. Law enforcement officials and advocates described disturbing forced labor conditions they’d found on U.S.-based farms and in U.S.-based factories.
Beyond looking at our own practices and suppliers, we are part of an emerging collaboration between businesses, governments and human rights activists seeking to team up against human trafficking as a broad societal challenge.
Last month, Microsoft also participated in the International Business Forum on “Engaging Business: Addressing Human Trafficking in Labor Sourcing.” Among the things that particularly impressed me at the forum:
· The range of sectors engaged in the meeting from information technology companies like Microsoft to companies in the consumer products, travel, food and financial sectors. While there are some basic steps all companies can take to ensure they and their suppliers are not using forced labor, there is a growing recognition of the sector-specific risks and opportunities companies can address.
· The number of diverse companies ranging from Lexis-Nexis to Manpower that have made trafficking a key focus of their philanthropy.
These problems are too big for any one company or agency to solve, but we are among the companies working to be part of the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. In particular, over the past two years, we’ve partnered with the UN Global Initiative Against Human Trafficking and the advocacy group End Human Trafficking Now to create and develop an online e-learning course to help companies identify and take action to address the potential risks of human trafficking.