Whether you’re giving your patronage to a convention or a Biglaw firm, there are usually ethical dimensions to our actions that are easy to not give thought to — a dimension worth of attention is figuring out how tied to slavery the services you depend on are. It is easy to relegate slavery to an event that ended tidily in 1865. Unfortunately, the ethical applications of Occam’s Razor are rarely true. Not only is slavery still a thing, you likely directly benefit from it right now. And I’m not using the Queen’s you here. I mean You. And that awareness is impacting all sorts of people, corporate ones included.
The rise of EGS (Environmental, Governance and Social) has made companies more accountable than ever before for misconduct in their supply chains—including what’s widely called modern slavery or human trafficking.
Facing the risk of significant legal and reputational damage, companies are putting unprecedented efforts into investigating their supply chains to ensure they’re ferreting out any instances where people are forced, deceived and coerced into work environments with little chance of escape.
One weak link in a supply chain could spell disaster, said Matt Friedman, CEO of Mekong Club, a Hong Kong-based organization that mobilizes the private sector to help fight modern slavery.
“The danger for corporations is that if somebody identifies that their supply chain has modern slavery in it, it can have a devastating impact on their business,” he said. “It could get into the newspapers. It could be a determining factor as to whether or not people buy your goods.”
Oof. Having the primary deterrent of using slavery be that it impacts your bottom line isn’t as good as not engaging with slavery because it is fucking slavery isn’t the best way to start, but it is a start nonetheless. That’s the rub of depending on corporations to do good. But even with corporations fighting the good fight to make good money, a lack of strong enforcement mechanisms to root out forced labor definitely isn’t helping them.
One complication is that many countries do not have laws that would provide civil damages to victims of modern slavery. For example, the plaintiffs in the Kimberly-Clark lawsuit filed their case in the United States, citing violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, because there is no similar law in their home country of Bangladesh, according to the lawsuit.
“Nor could claims be brought in Malaysia ,as the judicial system is notoriously corrupt and would be unresponsive to the claims of foreign workers against major manufacturing firms operating in and bringing significant revenue to Malaysia,” the suit says.
Some uphill battles are still worth fighting. Stronger international enforcement mechanisms and increased awareness of the human losses that go into rising profits are a good start to changing things for the better. If you know of a firm skirting the whole freedom thing (or defending clients that do so), let us know.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.
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