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By: Luis Gay
Edited by: Juliana Zhu, Esq.
In the 2015 human trafficking report recently released by the U.S. State Department, global supply chains of agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing took center stage as the main hotspots for slavery. Food industries have been noted for abuse and promising efforts to fight this problem. Sex and domestic work dominated these annual reports when the State department first started them in 2001, however Mai Shiozaki, a spokesperson from the State Department, stated that there has been growing awareness of forced labor and the impact it has in the global economy. She explains that media, businesses, and government officials have driven this shift.
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Verité, an NGO that analyzes labor conditions around the world, released a report in January examining the likelihood of human trafficking in private and federal supply chains. Forty-eight chains were targeted for additional research due to their vulnerability to trafficking. Of those 48, 22 were commodities including fish, shrimp, wheat, corn, and palm oil. This comes at no surprise as farms and fisheries have been some of the least-regulated workplaces in the world according to Laura Germino, who organizes the anti-slavery campaign of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Germino says that that there is a large imbalance between workers and employees in U.S. agriculture. This is evident when farm workers were initially excluded from minimum wage requirements. She strongly believes the same trend occurs overseas.
The State Department uses information from organizations such as Verité to rank countries as either first, second, or third tier in their reports. First tier countries demonstrate appreciable progress in fighting trafficking while third tier countries demonstrate a lack of initiative toward trafficking, if not outright ignoring the problem. These rankings aid in pinpointing areas that need significant assistance with combating slavery.
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Anti-trafficking advocates are pleased that trafficking in low-waged industries is receiving the much needed recognition it deserves, although more still needs to be done. For instance, the palm oil industry in Malaysia was reported to be conducting human trafficking according to the Wall Street Journal, yet their ranking moved from a third-tier nation to the second tier. This action is critical for Obama's Trans-Pacific trade agreement as it sets a high standard for trade. Killian Moote, project director of Know The Chain, a non-profit that helps businesses inspect their supply chains for labor abuse, doesn’t see this move as an effective way to end labor abuse. Rather, it is necessary to highlight these instances and expose consumers to the conditions in which their products are made. Exposing abuse in a supply chain could potentially create a cascade effect to end abuse in the whole chain altogether.
Luis Gay is a sophomore attending the University of San Francisco, pursuing a Biology degree and Biochemistry Minor. He is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.
McMillan, Tracie. 28July2015. “Beyond Brothels: Farms And Fisheries Are Frontier Of Human Trafficking”. NPR. [Accessed 31 July 2015]