How Businesses Can (and already do) fight Human Trafficking

Article orginally published on on July 20, 2011.

Eight to ten billion dollars a year: the average annual income of an industry that earns its bread by systematically manipulating, humiliating, brutalizing, and dehumanizing its victims. (UN)

To get to the point: the sale of human beings for forced sex or labor is a booming business. And it’s everyone’s business to not only refuse to tolerate its presence, but to actively work against the damage it does in the community. The movement to end human trafficking is no college kid’s crusade, nor is it relegated to philanthropic or religious organizations. Because traffickers mimic legitimate business practices, ranging “…from small-time, mom-and-pop operations to tightly run, well-organized structures that operate on a competitive international basis” (WABE), legitimate American companies and small businesses play a key role in putting a stop to it. Here’s how.

Labor Trafficking


Many companies have already taken a public vow to provide consumers with products that are “Fair Trade”, or free of forced labor. But talk is cheap. Businesses must proactively and reactively respond to the possibility of forced labor being used in their chain of production. Why? According to a brief report compiled by Anti-Slavery and SustainAbility, human trafficking is bad for business. “Major scandals around forced labour have tarnished corporate reputations. Identifying and addressing forced labour can help to alleviate some of these reputational risks.” Not only that-

Improving identification translates into improving risk management strategies and being better equipped to answer investors’ and consumers’ concerns. Investors are looking for companies with strong, sustainable and secure supply chains, a high degree of transparency and low risk of litigation. Labour violations can result in major costs from legal fines, costs or lost productivity. (1)


Companies often send out auditors who don’t know the signs to look for in human trafficking. Because many laborers cannot communicate with auditors directly due to either a language barrier or being hidden out of plain sight during audits, it’s up to companies to send educated, ethical people to labor sources.

According to AntiSlavery, “Companies often report the symptoms of forced labour as lesser violations such as delayed payment of wages or working long hours.” (1) it’s important that auditors be able to identify those who are at risk of trafficking for forced labor and signs of exploitation. (See Risk Factors and Victim Profile here. )


Rather than focusing solely on auditing, compliance and penalties, companies should work with their suppliers and take a genuine approach to partnership, for example making it clear that suppliers understand that they will not be dropped if forced labour is identified at their sites, but rather that the company will work with them to build their skills in identifying and addressing forced labour. (1)


Businesses ought to work alongside one another to form what AntiSlavery calls a “cohesive approach to resolving issues such as forced labour” as well as alongside government and non-government organizations that can help identify and assist victims of human trafficking. Christina Bain, Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, confirms this on CNN Freedom Project and describes an example of such partnership:

During the 2011 Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, the Kennedy School’s Program on Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery co-created a panel at the Harvard Business School focused on the role that businesses can play in preventing modern-day slavery. The panel featured representatives from LexisNexis, The Body Shop and Panjiva and addressed how every business can tackle modern-day slavery, whether through supply chain management; allocating business capital to assist non-governmental organizations; or human resources training. (2)

Another example: The Body Shop has launched a successful, well-publicized campaign to stop sex trafficking alongside EPCAT International. Aside from engaging the public with the issue using speaking engagements, rallies, petitions, and calls to action, The Body Shop also donates part of its proceeds of certain products to EPCAT.

Sex Trafficking

Stopping the Demand

Courtney Dow of NightLight Atlanta gives another simple step that businesses can take to minimizing the demand aspect of sex trafficking:

“…There are companies that will compensate for an employee’s trip to the Strip club if they have a client with them. Having more companies say ‘We’re not compensating that. We’re not going to support that.”…” will make a clear statement about the way businesses value the bodies, minds, and spirits of women and girls.

Because of its illicit nature, the trafficking of women, girls, and even young men and boys often operates behind legal fronts, and qualitative studies have shown again and again that strip clubs, massage parlors, and other adult entertainment venues have been identified as sources for human trafficking in the form of forced sex acts. If you don’t believe it, note the high number of motels that surround such venues.

Other reports note that stripping can be used as a method of initiating women and girls into commercial sexual exploitation, not only by individual traffickers and pimps, but also by strip clubs running illegal prostitution rings.

Social service providers, advocates and researchers reported that the first sex enterprises that women were drawn into were often stripping and exotic dancing in clubs and at parties, and then ushered into table or lap dancing. Stripping is frequently a first step into prostitution. Strip clubs initially hire young women to serve drinks and then pressure them into dancing and eventually into prostitution to make more money for themselves and the club. The women said that the pressure is constant, and both subtle and direct. One U.S. service provider working with women in the sex industry reported women in the strip clubs soon learn that it’s the prostitution, not the stripping, that brings in the money [for the club]. (4)

Taking a Stand

Large companies and businesses have a mouthpiece that many individuals do not. Their size and presence in the marketplace give them the ability to raise awareness about the issue and funding for victims.

How you can encourage businesses to address human trafficking

  1. Approach your HR department with relevant information and statistics. How can your business copy the template of larger companies like The Body Shop? Can you develop your own that other businesses can use? Does your company collectively donate or participate in a cause each year?
  2. Sign or implement a contract similar to the Athens Ethical Principles.
  3. How does your company address the chain of supply? Is there transparency? If not, inform your boss of the risks involved with unknowingly patronizing unethical labor firms. (Check out
  4. Free2Work offers a directory of companies and products accompanied by grades based on how well they are managing transparency of production and protection of human rights.
  5. Write letters to businesses and companies that support or condone labor and sex trafficking. Let them know you’ll spend your money elsewhere until they change their policies.

Change.Org already has a few petitions going- join in!

Tell Village Voice Media to stop child sex trafficking on!

Stop Wyndham Hotel Staff from support child sex trafficking in Wyndham Hotels

Hershey: Raise the Bar!

Urge Costco to sell Ethical gold!

(1) Working in Partnership with Business: Improving Monitoring for Forced Labor.

(2) Three Voices: How to end Modern Day Slavery

(3) How to Stop Human Trafficking: A guide to getting involved

(4) Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States: International and Domestic Trends; Raymond, Janice G. and Hughes, Donna M.

“Dying to Leave: The Business of Human Trafficking”; originally posted on WABE


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