Agricultural workers are some of the most vulnerable workers on the planet. In the U.S., we carve out laws that treat agricultural workers differently from all other U.S. workers. Further, it is a sector populated largely with foreign-born workers. All too often, these circumstances generate situations of horrific human exploitation.
On Friday, February 14, we were joined in our quarterly webinar by a leader in efforts to uncover human trafficking and modern slavery: Laura Germino of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Laura, a founding member of CIW, helped to establish the CIW’s Anti-Slavery Campaign. In 2010, she was honored by the U.S. State Department as a TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Hero. In 2015, the anti-slavery campaign received the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts in Combating Modern Day Slavery. CIW has pioneered a worker-based social responsibility model, the Fair Food Program, to include workers in addressing exploitation and abuse and to eradicate modern slavery in Florida’s tomato fields. We also discussed how these lessons can be applied to our corporate engagements.
We highly recommend sharing this video with your investment committee and other essential people involved in your investment strategy.
We are very grateful for Laura’s presence in this webinar, for her long-standing commitment to eradicate modern slavery in the ag sector, and her generosity in sharing her wisdom and experience with us.
Over the last few years, casual readers of newspapers likely had vague awareness that China had imprisoned more than a million ethnic Uighur Muslims and other minorities in camps in the country’s far-west Xinjiang province. While the Chinese government claims that the prisoners are volunteers who receive job training, human rights organizations allege that the ethnic minorities endure mass incarceration in “re-education camps” designed to indoctrinate those ethnic minorities.
In the last six months, a barrage of new events and evidence clarified the situation with striking details. In June, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) published a detailed, 34-page report on a factory owned by the Hetian Taida Apparel Company that supplied university logo clothing to Badger Sportswear. The WRC found:
. . . the investigation Badger commissioned of Hetian Taida, in response to allegations of forced labor, was fatally compromised by the company’s rush to exonerate itself and its supplier; the company announced findings, supposedly based on worker interviews, before [emphasis added] interviewing any workers. [p. 2]
The U.S. State Department placed China on Tier Three (the lowest category) in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, dedicating considerable attention to Xinjiang. In early October, Time magazine reported that the U.S. Blocks Imports From 5 Countries Over Allegations of Forced Labor, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intervened on a Costco shipment from Hetian Taida. Days later, the WRC issued an Update on Forced Labor and Hetian Taida Apparel. Badger Sportswear only cut ties after CBP intervened on the shipment for Costco. The American Apparel and Footwear Association, a trade group for brands and retailers, issued a disappointing and underwhelming statement in response to this report that they were “deeply concerned” and called on the Chinese government to act. Also, Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a critical report entitled Connecting the Dots in Xinjiang: Forced Labor, Forced Assimilation, and Western Supply Chains offering specific guidance for companies and investors. A rare event these days, a bipartisan letter came from members of both the U.S. House and Senate calling on the CBP to investigate and block goods coming from the Xinjiang province.
Last week, classified documents from the Chinese government were leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, providing policies and procedures inside the re-education camps. The camps reportedly have watch towers, double-locked doors, and video surveillance “to prevent escapes.” The Chinese government apparently uses the camps to train its artificial intelligence programs for use in mass surveillance. The documents demonstrate that forced labor is an integral part of the Chinese government’s strategy for ideological conversion through industrialization. This is the largest incarceration of people based on an ethnic or religious identity since 1945.
A Toxic Combination for Apparel Companies and Consumers
China is the source of about 40% of all clothing sold in the U.S. The Xinjiang province grows 80% of China’s cotton, and, increasingly, the cotton is ginned there. Companies are erecting new factories in Xinjiang for additional steps in the garment-making process. Further, fabric from China is exported to Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam—all significant sources of apparel sold in the U.S
Corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights within company-owned operations and through business relationships. This obligation is delineated in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. Every brand and retailer that sources from China is exposed to the risks for forced labor in their supply chains: the harvesting and ginning of cotton, the spinning of the yarn, and the business relationships with corporations collaborating with the Chinese government to build and staff these new factories. The issue is not “simply” a violation of a retailer’s code of conduct or a reputational risk; companies risk a violation of U.S. law concerning importation of garments made with forced labor.
As public scrutiny of these issues increases, it will become increasingly clear that companies’ due diligence mechanisms (audits and codes of conduct) are insufficient. We at SGI would argue that, even in the best of circumstances, audits and codes of conduct, while necessary, are insufficient to protect human rights. In the circumstance of the Xinjiang province, such efforts are rendered ineffective.
We urge companies to take this risk seriously. It is not enough to lay low and wait; companies must engage proactively. We also urge the U.S. government to take meaningful action against the Chinese government in this matter. Even our faith communities have a responsibility to act. Events in support of “religious freedom” ring hollow if it does not also include action to respect the religious freedom of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Finally, as consumers, we are called to solidarity with those who endure forced labor. NPR’s Scott Simon put it well: “What does it have to do with us? Look down at our shoes, our phones and our toys.”
To learn more:
- China’s Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang (Council on Foreign Relations)
- Did a Muslim Slave Make Your Chinese Shirt? (Wall Street Journal)
- Xinjiang cotton sparks concern over ‘forced labour’ claims, (BBC)
- THE XINJIANG PAPERS (New York Times)
- 5 Takeaways From the Leaked Files on China’s Mass Detention of Muslims, (New York Times)
- Uighurs and their supporters decry Chinese ‘concentration camps,’ ‘genocide’ after Xinjiang documents leaked.(Washington Post)
The Trafficking in Persons Report, or TIP Report, is an annual report issued by the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The TIP Report ranks governments based on their perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking. Thursday, June 20th, the 2019 edition was issued.
The report categorizes countries of the world with regard to their adherence to the standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. Each country is tiered according to compliance:
- Tier 1 (those governments who fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards)
- Tier 2 (while not fully complying, governments with significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards)
- Tier 2 watch list (not fully complying along with a significant absolute number of trafficking victims, or a failure to increase efforts, or a determination that the country is in fact committed to making significant progress in the coming year)
- Tier 3 (those governments who do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so)
- Special cases (countries where a civil or humanitarian crisis makes gaining information difficult).
Remember that tier 1, which includes the United States, is simply compliance with the minimum standards. A tier 3 designation means that the U.S. can restrict assistance or withdraw support for the country at global funding organizations like the International Monetary Fund. Some regard the tier 2 watch list with suspicion as some determinations have suggested a reward to governments allied with the U.S. who otherwise would be in tier 3.
The report intends to offer “homework” to governments based on their tier. The image below lists the countries of the tier 2 watch list, tier 3, and special case categories. The report includes a country by country analysis of human trafficking.
I don’t want companies to avoid sourcing from these countries: I prefer companies to promote improved standards and conditions in those countries. Even if the governmental authorities do not adhere to a recognized global minimum, companies have a responsibility to act responsibly, to act in accord with the protection of human rights. A company, working in those countries, must take extra steps to reduce human trafficking and to care for the victims of trafficking in their supply chains.
The resolutions that SGI members introduced at Kraft Heinz, Macy’s, TJX, and Wendy’s aimed to do just that. We asked those companies to do a human rights impact assessment, to look through their supply chains at the most vulnerable workers. They then would mitigate the human rights abuses and remedy those workers whose rights were violated. Over time, those learnings are compiled and integrated into the ongoing processes of the company to insure greater adherence to human rights in their supply chain.
Now for some personal homework. I would recommend printing off the image above. Perhaps, you may want to laminate it to carry it with you.
When going to bed this evening, take a look at the countries of origin for the clothing you have worn. I’d be willing to bet that much of your clothing comes from a country listed above. Many of the electronic items that we use daily have supply chains woven through these countries. I bring that to your attention, kind reader, not to shame you or make you feel guilty, but, in the hopes, that we might see– along with the companies who provide us those products– that we have real power to change the situation in those countries.
While it may seem like a long time, it is heartening to recall that Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert, waiting to enter the promised land.
Almost 30 years ago, Fr. Mike Crosby, O.F.M., Cap. began a dialogue with executives from Wendy’s. Concerned that adequate progress was not being made on due diligence concerning potential and actual human rights issues, the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph filed a shareholder resolution on human rights this year. The company challenged the resolution, and the Securities Exchange Commission ruled that the resolution could be omitted. As our resolution had been omitted by the SEC, it would not be coming to a vote, but I attended the shareholder meeting in Dublin, OH on behalf of the Capuchins so as to make a statement to the board and the company officers about our concerns in the area of human rights due diligence.
The team from Wendy’s were very gracious hosts. Having arrived early, a member of the investor relations team took me to visit what had been the office of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. I had the opportunity to meet executives who have been on calls with us. Personally, I find it helpful to have a face to put to the voice that I hear on the phone. I also had the opportunity to meet CEO Todd Penegor, board chair Nelson Peltz, and chief legal officer E.J. Wunsch, as well as other members of the board.
The meeting itself lasted a bit over 75 minutes. After a brief video highlighting Wendy’s 50 years, Mr. Peltz opened the meeting. Three items of business were conducted: a vote concerning the board of directors, a vote concerning the company’s auditors, and, finally, an advisory vote concerning executive compensation. The video to the voting was completed within a swift 11 minutes. Next, Mr. Penegor gave an overview of the company’s business plan. Following Mr. Penegor, Liliana Esposito, the chief communications officer, addressed corporate social responsibility and gave an ESG update.
Upon the conclusion of Ms. Esposito’s remarks, the floor was opened to general questions and comments. First, Kerry Kennedy, daughter to the late Robert F. Kennedy, spoke in favor of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Fair Food Program. Next, Mr. Peltz recognized me, and I approached the microphone to offer my statement.
My remarks aimed to accomplish four things:
- To identify the abundant risks for human trafficking and forced labor in agricultural supply chains;
- To describe the fundamental shift effected by laws here in the U.S. and abroad that, while good and necessary, codes of conduct and audits are no longer sufficient;
- To outline a better process, employed by many leading companies: a human rights risk assessment that incorporates the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
- And to encourage Wendy’s to take these necessary steps that, at heart, are in accord with the deepest values of the founder, Dave Thomas, and the company.
Subsequently, Chelsea Rudman of the Workers Rights Consortium spoke similarly of the value of worker-driven social responsibility efforts. Lena Brook of the Natural Resources Defense Council spoke about the use of medically-important antibiotics in meat and poultry served at Wendy’s. A shareholder asked a question concerning the updating of restaurant infrastructures. Mike Telford of the National Pork Producers Council thanked Wendy’s for their relationship with pork producers. Nelly Rodriguez, from the CIW, offered a moving witness, in Spanish, about the importance of the Fair Food Program. Another shareholder asked a question concerning non-meat substitutes. Finally, a shareholder, who is also an adoption assessor, rose to speak a word of thanks for Wendy’s commitment to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Soon thereafter, the meeting was adjourned.
While the meeting maintained its decorum, no attendee could be blind to the concerns raised by the different voices. While I am disappointed that our resolution did not come to a vote this year, SGI remain committed to working with Wendy’s to improve their practices in the area of human rights.
As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. Even after a 40-year sojourn in the desert, the fact is that Moses never made it into the promised land, but he did see it before he died. Faith-based shareholders differ from day traders. We are in it for the long haul. We genuinely care about the companies we engage. We will bring items to their attention that may make company leadership uncomfortable. We do so, because we are committed to protecting people and the planet. We believe that the interests of the company, through the long haul, align with the interests of people and the planet.
The statement prepared for the 2019 Wendy’s shareholder meeting can be found here.
By Mark Peters, Director of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, Priests of the Sacred Heart, US Province, Member, SGI Board
How did I, someone who’s never been much into shopping and stores and has gotten his clothes from Kohl’s since junior high, find myself addressing the CEO, Board and a smattering of shareholders of Macy’s, Inc. in Cincinnati last month? It’s all thanks to a Capuchin priest who had the foresight to see how important corporations would become in the 21st Century.
Fr. Mike Crosby, OFM Cap, died two years ago, but he lives on in the work of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment. Fr. Mike recruited me back in 2014 and coached me through my first shareholder resolution, which was with TJX, the company that owns TJMaxx, Homegoods and Marshalls. We got 3% of the vote, a victory because you needed that much to bring it back the next year. That time we got under the next benchmark and that was the end of that campaign, though not of our continuing dialogue with TJX. Votes under 5% are not unusual in this line of work! We often plant seeds that don’t bear immediate fruit.
This year Chris Cox, Associate Director of SGI (along with Executive Director Frank Sherman, who was mentored by Mike), directed our resolution with Macy’s, requesting a report on their process for ensuring that no vendor is engaged in forced labor (their byzantine supply chains are the reason their clothes are so cheap and the company is so profitable). Chris consulted with experts in the drafting of the resolution and provided me with lots of material for the dialogue that the company agreed to after we filed. But ultimately the company would not agree to undertake the report, so we did not withdraw, as is sometimes done when a company does make a good faith beginning.
That’s what brought me to Cincinnati on May 17. Someone needed to be present to “move” the proposal, as the Board had made known it’s opposition to it and it would be dropped if no one spoke for it. However, Macy’s was stingier than most with the time they allot speakers, and we were told we had only one minute. So 800 miles driving and a hotel stay, all for the sake of 90 seconds (try and keep me to 60!) of opportunity to sway the votes of a mere handful of shareholders present at the (to me) surprisingly sparsely-attended AGM (annual general meeting) — all of whom, as it turned out, had apparently already voted their shares prior to the meeting. So I was basically just talking to the board.
But in the end the shareholders spoke to them as well, because our proposal received 40% of the vote! Chris and I were shocked, but very pleasantly so, as this ensures us a continued seat at the table with the company, and the very real chance of a win next year. Apparently investors are starting to care about human trafficking!
As often happens (and as someone else has done for us with this same proposal at the TJX AGM this week outside of Boston), we’d been asked to move another group’s proposal, this one on transparency on political contributions. I read their statement as well, and that proposal actually received 53% of the vote. I spoke to the Corporate Counsel afterward, and she said the company would likely implement the proposal because of that showing.
A number of other SGI members have had successful outings this proxy season, especially those working on climate change-related resolutions, which for most investors is now clearly a strong value. Now begins the work of readying ourselves for the next season!
Mark’s statement at the annual shareholder meeting can be found here.
Two weeks ago, Frank Sherman and I participated in the ICCR Program Strategy Week. The Program Directors met with their Work groups in NYC to evaluate the progress over the past year and chart out a path forward for the 2018-19 corporate engagement season. This article will summarize the human rights/human trafficking session.
Estimates indicate that 27 million victims fall prey to trafficking and slavery each year and that it is a global trade valued at $32 billion dollars. But due to the clandestine nature of these crimes and the reluctance of victims to speak out because they live in fear of physical retribution and/or deportation, trafficking and slavery are typically very difficult to uncover and prosecute. Through the Human Rights/Human Trafficking (HR/HT) Work Group, ICCR members ask the companies they hold to adopt human rights policies that formally recognize human trafficking and slavery and to train their personnel and their suppliers to safeguard against these risks throughout their supply chains. Human rights provides an umbrella for all ICCR efforts.
The day prior to our session, the Alliance met as well. It will take some time to define action that corresponds to IAHR or to the HR/HT work group as both groups are concerned with issues that overlap. The Alliance has three components: Human rights responsibilities of investors, collective action, and multi-stakeholder engagement.
- Promotes implementation of human rights due diligence by companies
- Encourages the creation of enabling environment for responsible business conduct through awareness raising, standard setting, and regulatory development – states, multi-lateral institutions, the UN, development banks and, of course, investors
- Encourages engaged companies to develop and strengthen activities and process to provide remedy
- Builds partnerships with business community, NGOs, trade unions, local communities and others to leverage this work
It seems likely that the IAHR will focus, this year, on Banking and Tech sectors as it relates to salient human rights issues. Again, it will take some time to develop the necessary coordination between the efforts of IAHR and ICCR working groups.
Even though we no longer have a full-time staff position, ICCR will sustain efforts in this area. Significant progress has been made, but more work remains to be done.
Companies face significant challenges related to ethical recruitment strategies. Historically, it has been difficult to make progress on labor rights/working conditions for companies in their first tier. Now there is a new paradigm where companies need to think about their labor supply chains in every tier. There is a state of paralysis and it is hard to make progress. While there are leaders who are making progress, not enough companies are following. Most companies focus on attending conferences and webinars and think of a legal response: “What is the shape of the risk to the company?”
When the companies attempt to assess their risk, they often rely on risk-mapping platforms that all tend to give a sense of the country risks (using the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report and/or the Labor Department’s child and forced labor report listing countries and commodities), but not go any deeper. Further, the auditing systems need training and refinement: If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t find forced labor. Occasionally, corporate legal counsel can suggest that the company may not want more information about recruitment as it may open the company to litigation concerning what is discovered. As well, we need to develop clear standards to separate the good from the bad recruiters. Currently, only certain sectors and commodities have been the focus of recruitment: ICT, seafood sector and palm oil sector, and coffee. This work will need to be broadened.
A critical question for work: what is the true cost of recruitment? There is the cost of recruitment, and there are charges that migrant workers pay that are not recruitment costs but the cost of corruption. More focus on this issue is needed plus an emphasis on companies sharing the cost of recruitment with suppliers as well as workers who have paid getting reimbursements. Again, progress has been made, but we must deepen and extend that progress.
We spent some time in discussion about how we might engage companies in the airline industry, hotel industry, transportation sector, and the tech sector. We assessed some of the corporate engagements in recent years as well as identified some of our allies in this work.
We also discussed legislative and regulatory priorities in the upcoming year concerning human trafficking. A significant priority is the re-authorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). In the U.S. House (HR 2200)
and in the U.S. Senate (S1311, S 1312, S 1862), bills may come to the floor during this year. Given the mid-term elections and other factors, these bills may not be considered, but advocates are continuing to call for this. Additionally, we want to be mindful of the appropriations process in a few areas: State Department programs to end human trafficking; State and foreign appropriations; some provisions in the Department of Labor as well as Health and Human Services; and appropriations for Homeland Security’s enforcement of the ban on forced and child labor.
In the fight against human trafficking, a critical role for faith-based investors, then, is to continue to work with “Know the Chain,” engaging corporations and boards in conversations about supply chain and due diligence. These efforts keep the issue spotlighted.
- Materials on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals:
- Business, Human Rights and the SDGs – Shift, 2016
- Human Rights and the SDGs – The Danish Institute for Human Rights
- SDG Compass: The guide for business action on the SDGs
- Unilever Human Rights Progress Report 2017 – Company example
- Know the Chain Benchmarks – 2018 Benchmarks Company Lists (ICT, F&B, Apparel and Footwear)
- International Tourism Partnership’s Principles on Forced Labor launched June 12th: http://www.greenhotelier.org/our-news/industry-news/hotel-sector-unites-under-itp-to-tackle-forced-labour/
- “Ripe for Change: Ending Human Suffering in Supermarket Supply Chains” Oxfam’s new report, June 21, 2018
- One page summary of Global Forum on Responsible Recruitment In Singapore, June 11-12, 2018