Written by Jan Turner Tuesday, May 22 2012
Karen Stauss, Director of Programs for Free the Slaves, oversees the organization’s policy advocacy and partnerships with community-based anti-slavery groups in six countries. Also an attorney, Stauss has taken her on-the-ground experiences and combined them with her legal expertise to work with other experts in drafting H.R.2759.IH.
Also known as the Business Transparency on Trafficking & Slavery Act, the legislation would require companies to disclose any measures they have taken to identify and address instances of human trafficking, slavery and child labor in their supply chains. The act, which was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, would require companies to include such disclosures in their annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In addition, the information would be prominently posted on SEC and company websites for public access.
The requirement only applies to companies with more than $100 million in worldwide receipts. According to Stauss, this is because of widespread resistance in Congress to increased regulation of business at this point in time. “The $100 million threshold was chosen to ease concerns that this would unduly burden small businesses,” she explains.
However, she maintains the act would still have significant real-world impact since smaller businesses share some of the same suppliers as the large businesses. “In other words, the buying power of the larger businesses should be enough to impact the practices of those suppliers down through the supply chain in order to eradicate slavery,” Stauss says.
The transparency approach is a good one, Stauss says, because, “It allows the public and consumers to reward companies who are doing a good job and also puts pressure on those who are not. In other words, it is a market-based solution that doesn’t have to depend on law enforcement efforts.”
Stauss explains that another benefit of the transparency approach “is that it provides a less threatening entree into the issue for the many companies who really do not want to have slavery within their businesses.”
Unfortunately, like most global citizens, businesses have remained unaware of the extent of the risks of slavery, she says. “This approach encourages them to buy into the solutions and become anti-slavery heroes, and to advertise that fact.”
Stauss concludes, "Like any bill, it must be approved in the same text in the House and the Senate, and then signed by the President. The bill was introduced in the House in August 2011; we would like to see a similar bill introduced in the Senate. If it is not enacted in 2012, we will advocate for reintroduction of the same or a similar bill in the next session of Congress."
How You Can Lean Forward for Freedom
- Watch the Free the Slaves videos on supply chain slavery featuring Karen Stauss and Kevin Bales. Click here for a field report from the Congo and here for how to become a “slave-free business.”
- Learn about the many faces of human trafficking from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and from vignettes based on actual calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
- Take the UN.GIFT course, “Human Trafficking and Business," an e-learning tool from Microsoft.
- Learn the signs of human trafficking and the questions to ask people that you suspect are involved in compelled labor.
- Post the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline at work and in your community. Give it to anyone whom you suspect is being trafficked. Translation services are available.
Jan Turner lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. For more than 20 years her articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor as well as on wire services in the United States and abroad. Turner has written on subjects ranging from leadership and business culture to diversity awareness and faith-based organizations, and she has a nonfiction book underway. Turner has an advanced degree in intercultural communication and has traveled solo on many continents, exploring cultures from Ladahk and Sumatra to Malawi and Turkey, seeing first-hand the contributions and resilience of women.