A new report on human trafficking in several tea producing regions offers concrete steps retailers can take to reduce its harmful prevalence.
The non-governmental organization STOP THE TRAFFIK and LexisNexis Legal & Professional technology solutions jointly released Not My Cup of Tea last week in London.
“It is estimated there are 7 million new human trafficking victims each year, lured into involuntary servitude and sexual slavery. The gross and unjust economic exploitation of vulnerable people, especially women and children, is a direct consequence of the absence of Rule of Law,” explains Tom Ogburn, LexisNexis managing director for business insight solutions.
The report is critical of labor practices and working conditions on tea plantations within India, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
Conditions there drive workers and their families into the hands of human traffickers, who use false promises of a new life away from the plantations to lure people into forced labor and sexual exploitation, according to author Thomas Guinn who works in Communications at STOP THE TRAFFIK.
Retailers must be responsible and transparent in their sourcing by insisting that third-party brokers and wholesalers, working along with inspectors hired by certification organizations, avoid tea plantations that encourage exploitation by taking advantage of vulnerable workers.
The group promotes legislation such as the UK’s recently enacted Modern Slavery Act which is “bringing about change not only through having global reach, but by providing encouragement for other countries to introduce similar legislation, creating even more pressure for companies to reduce the risk of trafficking in their supply chains,” according to Pete Talibart, managing partner at Seyfarth Shaw UK who works as STOP THE TRAFFIK’s legal advisor.
“Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act is already being lauded as a historical ground breaker and has already started to influence other legal systems,” he said.
Similar legislation in the U.S., known as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, requires companies with annual global revenues of $100 million to post a disclosure on their websites the extent to which they are acting to minimize human trafficking in their supply chains.
KnowTheChain, an organization founded by NGO Humanity United to encourage greater corporate understanding of the Act, found that only 31% of 500 companies investigated had a disclosure statement.
The British act requires a corporation’s board of directors to sign the statement certifying the products offered are not produced under conditions of modern slavery. This document becomes publicly available information produced by directors and upon which shareholders and consumers in all legal jurisdictions are entitled to rely. So, the statements made to comply with UK law may also create legal obligations under the laws of the other ‘consumer’ nations, or the ‘producing’ nation. As a result, the MSA supply chains provision is likely to have a ‘ripple’ effect throughout the international legal system, according to STOP THE TRAFFIK.
‘Not My Cup of Tea’ focuses on the 2,107 English language articles identified in the Nexis® Human Trafficking Awareness Index directly relating to human trafficking and the tea industry, in the period 1st January 2013–1st September 2015. Using a licensed collection of the most influential news sources from more than 120 countries, the LexisNexis Human Trafficking Awareness Index measures media coverage of human trafficking to highlight key trends at national and global levels. The Index is designed to support the work of campaigners, organizations and others who are interested in understanding perceptions of human trafficking in the media.
Ruth Dearnley OBE, and CEO of STOP THE TRAFFIK explains: “You can’t stop what you can’t see. LexisNexis has been working with STOP THE TRAFFIK to shine a light on the issue of trafficking in the supply chains of chocolate, clothes and now tea. This report lays out the challenges and highlights the importance for both consumers and company directors to understand the issue, know how it affects them and what they can do about it. Change happens when everyone engages. When we can see it, we can work together. We can ‘stop the traffik’.”