Opinion

Human trafficking and the modern supply chain: Why brands must do good to do well

Ethical supply chains are both an opportunity and a responsibility for today’s businesses and brands.

The following is a guest post from Padmini Ranganathan, Vice President of Products & Innovation at SAP Ariba.

Slavery has been illegal in almost every nation on Earth for decades — but it still exists everywhere. It’s estimated that, even today, there are between 20 and 30 million forced laborers around the globe. Walk Free reports that slave labor contributes to the production of at least 136 goods from 74 countries worldwide. It’s time to wake up and recognize the high likelihood that some of these slaves are working for you.

It’s a major risk that cannot be ignored especially on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. With increasing urgency, millennial workers and consumers are issuing calls to action as they seek to work for and with companies with strong ethical practices.

When it comes to brand reputation, research shows that if given a choice, most consumers will purchase a brand with a cause over one without. Companies exposed for using slave labor often experience backlash that can tarnish their entire reputation, and therefore their bottom line.

Don’t overlook potential victims in your supply chain

Are there slaves in your supply chain? If you’re like most companies, you have no clue. But in today’s networked and data-driven economy, there’s no excuse for this kind of oversight.

More times than not, it isn’t a brand’s suppliers using forced labor it’s their suppliers’ suppliers. Yet the companies exposed ultimately bear all responsibility, regardless of their degree of separation, and suffer the harsh ethical and business consequences.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, maintaining ethical supply chains presents businesses with the opportunity to do well while doing good, which is something any savvy business leader should aspire for in their organization.

Stay connected

Social networks have completely transformed how societies communicate, connect and exchange information and products.

As businesses, we can leverage these same technology platforms that have become ingrained into our daily routines and apply them towards making the world a better place. Through leveraging the power of networks, big data and analytics, companies can pinpoint potential risks and opportunities that may be hidden deep within supply networks and address them before they disrupt business.

Just like Amazon and Netflix use the information over their networks to give members ratings and recommendations on certain books, products, or films to buy business networks can provide guidance on what to source, when, and from which suppliers. Technology and connectivity deliver a new level of transparency into supplier capabilities, performance, and social and environmentally responsible practices.

Take action

The first step to finding these ethical and legal supply chain violations is recognizing you may have a problem.

A majority of companies are simply striving to maintain supply chain security and continuity they’re not trying to be poor corporate citizens, or exploit workers. However, a company may still get into hot water if they are not aware of slavery in their supply chain, or if they do not dedicate the time and resources necessary to eradicate the problem.

It is imperative that brands put systems and processes in place to enable users to examine and track as many suppliers as possible not just the top 50. You must scratch deep beyond the supplier surface if you’re serious about rooting out unethical behavior within your supply chain. Although this may seem like an undertaking, technology is here to help.

Make a difference for the better

Today’s modern brands have made progress aligning themselves to meaningful causes. Eradicating slave labor is a movement that every single company can and should get behind. The data and technology are at our fingertips, so why not apply them to connecting with customers upon shared (and important) values?

Historically, procurement has not been viewed as something beyond a tactical function, but technology and networks are changing everything. Now, companies are being positioned with the chance to choose to work with ethical suppliers and do as little harm to the environment as possible. It’s a huge opportunity. And in today’s socially conscious world, a responsibility. Don’t get left behind – take the opportunity.


Padmini Ranganathan is Vice President, Products and Innovation for Supplier Risk, Compliance and Sustainability solutions for SAP Ariba. In this role, Padmini is responsible for defining and delivering solutions based on shared accountability values, with a vision towards an ethical supply chain, leveraging big data and technology.

Filed Under: Regulation