H.R.7089 is the chance for the U.S. to assert its commitment to ending slavery on the planet. Will we miss it again?
For the fourth time in eight years, the House of Representatives introduced the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act, or H.R.7089. This move underlines the increased scrutiny around forced labor in supply chains, not only in specific sectors, but globally. If turned into law, the bill would require companies to perform similar due diligence as the landmark UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015. If congress does not turn this bill into a law, it fails to recognize the U.S. and US-based companies’ critical role in ending modern slavery in supply chains.
H.R.7089 is design intends to tackle human rights abuse risks—including forced labor, child labor, and modern slavery—in companies’ supply chains by requiring corporate disclosures on implementing due diligence. The bill supports efforts to develop proactive frameworks for due diligence requirements to cascade through the different tiers of the companies’ suppliers.
Under its current form, publicly-traded companies with annual global receipts exceeding $100 million are subjected to the bill’s requirements. The in-scope companies will have to publicly disclose the policies and actions they are taking to identify and address the harm of forced labor throughout their supply chains.
Despite the critical need for more transparency and accountability in global supply chains, similar legislation to H.R.7089 has been unsuccessfully introduced in the House of Representatives. The United States, once a leader in this field with the passing in 2010 of Conflict Minerals Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, is now lagging behind the increasing number of countries adopting global anti-slavery regulations. Allies of the U.S. have adopted proactive texts and asserted their leadership to promote sustainable business such as with the UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015, the French Sapin II law, and just recently, Australia’s Modern Slavery Bill.
There are a number of resources available for companies to abide by due diligence expectations. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and its supporting Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct. The guidance document lays out the need to develop procurement policies and verification processes, train accountable individuals within the company, audit suppliers, implement oversight of their sourcing practices, and carry out remedial actions if need be. Critical to the success of such a program is disseminating the information through public reporting on the SEC and company websites.
The US Department of Labor annually publishes a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, which can guide the new bill. This document is proof that while the administrative side of the U.S. Government has been working toward the implementation of global anti-slavery frameworks for years, the political will is lacking to adopt a legal basis of this system. This obstruction highlights the lack of vision of some Congress members and companies that refuse to acknowledge the proven long-term business benefits of adopting risk-based due diligence programs.
Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) is a firm believer in implementing a due diligence disclosure approach in corporate supply chains to eradicate modern slavery. Mines have been demilitarized, and there has been an increase in transparency and accountability with smelters and refiners due to Conflict Minerals Section 1502.
While the midterm elections and the newly acquired democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives offers hope that H.R. 7089 will pass the House, the road is still long for its full implementation. RSN will continue to work on improving global, due diligence activities and disclosures by corporations and their suppliers. Eradicating modern slavery is no easy task and will take commitments from numerous stakeholders, governments, and companies to end this egregious practice. We hope the U.S. can join its peers in passing a modern slavery law, and fulfill on its values of providing life, liberty, and justice for all.