Many people think human trafficking equals sex trafficking of minor girls. That’s an understandable, if inaccurate, definition if you only rely on arrests by law enforcement, television and movies or news stories.

Calculating labor

Labor trafficking is found in many industries, including fishing, construction, agriculture, manufacturing and food and service industries. According to the International Labour Organization, forced labor makes up 78 percent of the estimated 20.9 million people currently enslaved by human trafficking worldwide, while sex trafficking accounts for 22 percent.

"Companies would be wise to begin adopting transparency best practices now, as a new law will leave little time for compliance."

Sadly, U.S. corporations, whether operating at home or abroad, are often complicit in the exploitation of human labor. This is most often found within the supply chains of U.S. corporations, especially those that rely upon foreign sub-contractors and suppliers for their parts and goods.

Creating accountability

Rather than leave it to businesses to monitor their supply chains, new legislation such as California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 is requiring greater transparency from large corporations. The act requires that companies doing business in California with over $100 million in gross annual receipts to publicly report evaluations of the risks of human trafficking and slavery in their supply chains on their webpages.

But this legislation only mandates disclosure. It does not require that companies correct any forced labor issues that are found. Still, it is a start: armed with this information, consumers can make more informed choices and pressure companies to source from ethical suppliers. With federal supply chain transparency legislation under consideration in the U.S. Congress, reporting requirements similar to California’s may soon become a reality for all large corporations doing business in the U.S. Companies would be wise to begin adopting transparency best practices now, as a new law will leave little time for compliance.