The Mekong Club is a catalyst for change – engaging, inspiring and supporting the private sector to eradicate slavery from their business. Given that the majority of modern-day slavery exists in the private sector, these companies are ideally placed to help turn the tide of this global epidemic.
The only organisation of its kind, The Mekong Club steers away from the approach taken by other players in this space, which is to ‘name and shame’ companies – ousting bad behaviour or issues related to this subject. Instead, we believe in starting and ending with collaboration.
In fact, The Mekong Club originally formed as a direct response to the growing number of companies looking to develop strategies to address forced labour risk through a professional forum. Divided into industry-specific working groups, these networks meet regularly to learn, share best practices, and network with other like-minded professionals. Member companies also work together to achieve an annual deliverable which will work towards producing tangible results in the fight against forced labour.
We have identified four industries within the private sector that we believe have the greatest opportunity to impact change. They are: financial services, apparel & footwear, hospitality providers and retailers.
At the centre of modern-day slavery is the ebb and flow of money, moving in waves around the world. Annual profits from modern-day slavery are estimated at US$150 billion, and are achieved through the process of transferring the proceeds from this crime into legally legitimate money or other assets – also known as money laundering. Traffickers are very skilled in camouflaging their activity as legitimate businesses, but being on the front lines of the system, the financial service industry has a distinct advantage in being able to identify suspicious activity. With the right training, this sector can be equipped to identify new money laundering trends that may be linked to slavery; in doing so, they also help to offset the risk to their own organisation from fraudulent businesses.
With extensive supply chain and manufacturing channels in multiple countries around the globe, it can be difficult for companies to monitor their many outlets. Many migrant or temporary workers are recruited through deception and debt bondage, as there are no international recruiting standards, with regulation and enforcement varying greatly between countries, especially developing countries. Because many multinational companies outsource their production to developing countries where there is both a lack of transparency and due diligence to investigate and monitor abuses. Lastly is a lack of knowledge of the different ways that slavery can show up in the supply chain – for example, some overseas companies actually operate private prisons where inmates can be “sentenced” for outstanding debt and forced to produce goods that are later sold to multinational companies. Increased understanding of the ways that slavery can appear in an apparel and/or footwear company’s supply chain is vital to affecting change.
The hospitality industry is all about people – it takes a multitude to make every operation run smoothly; unfortunately, this can many times mean a lack of transparency between the different layers. Hotel and housekeeping staff members, especially those recruited or subcontracted through agencies, may in fact be victims of forced or bonded labour. The hotel itself may be a site of adult and/or child sex trafficking; even the food (especially seafood) sourced by restaurants may be the product of forced or unethical labour practices. There are dozens of touch points where human trafficking can occur in the hospitality industry, many of which can be prevented by training staff and management on how to recognise them, as well as establishing procedures aimed at identifying and removing trafficking from a hotel’s operations. Due to the vast size of the industry, these changes have the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of lives.
Retailers strive to build trust with consumers who are increasingly demanding transparency: fair labor practices and respect of human rights within supply chains are among the most sensitive topics.
‘Slave boats’ used in the seafood industry, child labor and human trafficking used in cotton, tobacco, cocoa and chocolate plantations are only a few examples of the ever-growing number of commodities that are produced in atrocious conditions, and in different parts of the world, from Malaysia and Thailand to Uzbekistan and Tanzania. Retailers are vulnerable to the charge of profiting from forced labor, as any amount of product they sell that is found having a link to modern slavery puts them in a condition of liability and huge reputation risk. Urged by public pressure and the need of safeguard their businesses, especially after regulations such as the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act (2010) and the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015), many of the biggest retailers worldwide have engaged in monitoring activities. Offering them a platform to discuss their main challenges and best practices will facilitate improvements in the industry.
For each of the industries outlined above, The Mekong Club provides the tools and knowledge that they need to combat human trafficking within their vast systems. Our team is comprised of seasoned professionals who understand the complexities of working in environments where information is not always transparent. That’s why we have created a professional network of organisations offering closed door sharing and access to expert research and thought leadership. We offer companies the opportunity to learn from one another and share best practices – and in turn bring these learnings back to their organisations to teach others and implement real, tangible change that will impact millions of lives for the better. To learn more about the specific services that The Mekong Club provides, please click here.
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