This article is contributed by LexisNexis Malaysia. LexisNexis is a leading global provider of business information solutions to professionals in legal, corporate, government, academics, tax, accounting and many more.
To find out more on LexisNexis Practical Guidance, visit here.
To find out more on the modern slavery index by country, visit The Global Slavery Index.
In a report published by the International Labour Organisation in 2017 titled Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour & Forced Marriage, it was estimated that in 2016 there were 5 victims of modern slavery in every 1,000 people. Further, the Global Slavery Index found that, in 2016, approximately two-thirds of the 45.8 million people in modern slavery are in the Asia-Pacific region. Examples of modern slavery include forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking.
In collaboration with the British High Commission, where Her Excellency Victoria Treadell, British High Commissioner to Malaysia gave the opening remarks, the United Nations Global Compact Network Malaysia held an all-day pre-forum workshop on Slave Free Trade last March 15th in Kuala Lumpur, where various speakers from different organisations discussed the vital role businesses play in ending slavery.
The panel of speakers was notable leaders from various NGOs and CSOs, including Dato’ Aishah Bidin from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), Dr. Nisar Ahmad from Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, and Ms. Aegile Fernandez from local human rights and non-profit organisation Tenaganita.
LexisNexis’ Hannah Lim — Head of Rule of Law and Emerging Markets, SEA — spoke as a panelist about the ways in which even companies not directly involved in supply chains can still join the fight against modern slavery.
Post-workshop, we canvassed Hannah’s opinion on various issues on modern slavery and what can be done to tackle it.
During your talk, you discussed how businesses which are not directly involved in labour-intensive industries can do their part in contributing to the solution of solving slavery. Can you share some good examples of solutions contributed by private businesses?
I think there are two ways for a business to contribute toward the solution of ending modern slavery — they can do this internally, by checking their internal processes and ensuring that no aspect of their business relies on slave labour. The RELX group has a Socially Responsible Supply Chain (SRS) programme which requires suppliers to meet the same high standards set for RELX. Essentially, suppliers must adhere to all laws, embody and promote best practice in business operations, treat employees well and respect the environment, as indicated in the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact referenced in the RELX Supplier Code of Conduct.
The Supplier Code contains provisions on child labour, involuntary labour, wages, coercion and harassment, non-discrimination, freedom of association, health and safety, environment and anti-corruption. In accordance with the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, our Supplier Code specifically prohibits participation in any activity related to human trafficking, based on the American Bar Association’s Model Business Conduct Standards to Eradicate Labor Human Rights Impacts in Hiring and Supply Chain Practices. We ask suppliers to sign the Supplier Code which is available in 16 languages, and display it prominently in the workplace.
The second way is to do this externally, by actively leveraging on their strengths as a business to make a positive impact. This goes beyond donating to charities and non-government organizations to solve the problem — all businesses are good at something, it is why they get paid. These same skills can be creatively applied toward addressing these issues.
At LexisNexis this means developing products to support the people on the front-line of this issue. For example, our Practical Guidance product in Hong Kong has a Social Justice module, which includes materials on combating human trafficking (such as an English-Cantonese glossary of human trafficking terms used in Hong Kong; and guidance on implementing the Modern Slavery Act 2015).
In the UK, the eyeWitness to atrocities camera app was created to enhance the reporting of such crimes, empowering the victims of human trafficking in giving them a voice. This goes hand-in-hand with LexisNexis’s corporate mission of advancing the Rule of Law.
Could you elaborate on the eyewitness app — where can we find more information?
Essentially, eyeWitness seeks to bring to justice individuals who commit atrocities by providing human rights defenders, journalists, and ordinary citizens with a mobile app to capture much needed verifiable video and photos of these abuses. eyeWitness then becomes an ongoing advocate for the footage to promote accountability for those who commit the worst international crimes.
Photos and videos that are captured by mobile devices and uploaded to social media sites often do not contain vital information for verification such as the date, time, or geographic coordinates. As a result, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to verify that the footage is original and has not been altered. Verification is particularly challenging if the individual who captured the footage wishes to remain anonymous. Additionally, the footage captured normally lacks a chain of custody record, meaning it is unclear who had access to the footage between the time of capture and its use in court.
For all these reasons, the footage is often of little or no use to legal authorities in investigating or prosecuting the perpetrators. If the footage does reach a court or other tribunals, it is likely to be rejected or given little weight.
The eyeWitness app tackles all these challenges to increase the impact of footage in a court of law.
What are the factors contributing to modern slavery?
The issue of modern slavery overlaps with that of statelessness — a stateless person is an individual who is not considered a citizen or national by any state under the operation of its law. A person who is stateless faces barriers to government services such as education, healthcare and travel. As such, these people are more vulnerable to human trafficking and modern slavery as there is no government looking out for them.
There are officially over 10,000 stateless persons in West Malaysia and the chances of such people falling into the trap of modern slavery because they simply have no other alternative is much higher.
There are 45.8 million modern slaves in the world today, more so than at any other time in history. Modern slavery in many places is exacerbated by several factors — (1) socio-economic inequality (which creates the conditions for bonded labour); (2) porous borders (which makes it easy for people to move across state borders undetected); and (3) diversity in the population (for example the language differences across people groups can be a barrier to education and for victims seeking help).
These are high-level ideas and concepts which don’t seem to have much of an impact on our day to day lives, but they really do. For example, palm oil is found in many house-hold products. Roughly 70% of the workers on oil palm plantations are migrant workers and the remoteness of the plantations sites makes effective regulation by government agencies difficult. The remoteness of the locations also makes it difficult for plantation workers to obtain public services (such as healthcare, education for their children and even birth registration). These factors place the workers at a disadvantage and make them vulnerable to unfair labour practices if their employers choose not to grant them their rights.
What were your top 3 learning points from the United Nations Global Compact workshop on tackling modern slavery?
What really hit home is how entrenched modern slavery is to our global economy. It permeates almost all aspects of our lives, from the clothes we wear to the seafood we eat to the houses we live in. It’s almost as if nothing we do is “slave free” and if we’re honest about it, it also means that we are all complicit in this gruesome trade in human beings. From a corporate perspective, this means that even though we are not directly involved in labor-intensive industries, we must be extremely careful about where we procure our supplies from. This could be as simple as the laptops and computer hardware we use, to the soap in our restrooms.
Combating modern slavery is a daunting task and it will be a lot more difficult than most expect (simply because of how pervasive the issue is), but a helpful approach that surfaced during the workshop is to make a conscious effort to identify where choice is possible, and to make that choice where you can. For some, this means supporting ethnical brands where possible. Don’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, but focus on areas that you can control and act on it.
Finally, what would really help is enhanced transparency. The general perception is that transparency is bad for business, because how do you protect your business practices and trade secrets? But this is not always the case; sometimes transparency can level the playing field, to allow market forces to operate efficiently.
A business which relies on unpaid or undervalued labour to be competitive does not add value to society, as the costs are simply transferred from the customer or company onto their employees. What we should be striving for are businesses that are competitive based on their ability to innovate as this is where value-creation (instead of mere value-transfer) arises. This is better for the economy and society as a whole.
Hannah Lim is Head of Rule of Law and Emerging Markets for LexisNexis Southeast Asia. In her role, Hannah aims to position LexisNexis as a leader in the advancement of the rule of law and to build meaningful partnerships with key stakeholders in the public and private sectors as well as international organizations. She identifies areas where LexisNexis can assist in improving the rule of law. Prior to this, Hannah worked as a corporate lawyer in Myanmar, developing the Myanmar legal practice of two Singapore law firms. She is qualified in both Singapore and New York, with a Juris Doctor and a Masters in Asia Pacific Policy Studies from the University of British Columbia.