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Eradicating Supply Chain Slavery: Four Essential Goals

It is essential that business adopt and achieve four goals in order to eradicate slavery from commercial supply chains. Issues concerning the best policies, programs, and processes come later. The four goals are: (1) The eradication of slavery through the entire depth of the supply chains, (2) The eradication of slavery across the entire breadth of the supply chains, (3) Certainty that slavery has been eradicated across the entire depth and breadth of the supply chains, and (4) Certainty that slavery does not reappear at anytime and in anyplace in the supply chain. While these goals may seem basic, perhaps even overly simple, businesses have not fully embraced the adoption of these fundamental goals.

Slavery is hidden, insidious, and tenacious. In order to eradicate slavery from supply chains, we must be fully committed to shining a light in every corner, double-checking every circumstance, and taking every step, and then some, to ensure that slavery is not attached in any way to any part of any supply chain. A serious effort by any business to eradicate slavery from its supply chains must start with the commitment to achieve each of the four goals. With a formal, public commitment by business to the four goals, eradication is possible. Without this commitment, the eradication process will be moving from one short-term strategy to the next, with no clearly defined prospect for the complete eradication of slavery from the entirety of a supply chain either articulated or in sight.

Business retreated to a now-crumbling citadel when governments, civil society, and their own shareholders first began to demand that slavery be eradicated through every tier of their supply chains. Protests were raised that to achieve this would be impossible, too expensive, contrary to contract and custom, and otherwise not achievable. Time has confirmed that these arguments cannot sustained. In fact, eradication through every level of supply chains can be achieved and some businesses are working to achieve eradication through their first tiers, second tiers, and beyond. If slavery is to be eliminated from international trade, this first goal must be achieved. It is untenable to suggest that a business eradicate slavery in the first tier of its supply chain, "engage" with its second tier suppliers, and hope for the best in the lower tiers. The eradication of slavery requires dedication, discipline, and certainty. Business must have the eradication of slavery through every tier of its supply chain as its first goal.

The second goal is related to the first - not only must business have the goal of eradicating slavery through every tier of their supply chains, business also must have the goal of eradicating slavery across all their supply chains. Some businesses have stated that they are relying on a risk analysis, or a formula, or a study, and that they are focused on eradicating slavery from a certain portion of their supply chains. They offer the further explanation that to eradicate slavery across the entirety of their supply chains would be to achieve the perfect, and that they should not delay the good, meaning their more limited efforts, to await the perfect. These positions are ill-conceived and unpersuasive.

The eradication of slavery from the entirety of a supply chain is not perfection, it is the base level of business conduct. To be able to state that with certainty that neither a business nor its chain of suppliers engage in crimes against humanity is to satisfy a minimal standard. While there may be some merit to starting eradication activities in a perceived high-risk part of a supply chain, there must be a date by which eradication will achieved across the entirety of the supply chain. A dutiful statement by a business, without substantive plans and timetables, that someday eradication activities will expand to the entirety of the supply chain will never do. The making and accomplishing of this second goal is essential to the complete eradication of slavery from supply chains.

The third goal follows from, and builds upon, goals one and two: it is the confirmation that goals one and two have been satisfied, that is, that slavery has been eradicated at every level and across the entirety of the supply chains. Slavery hides from view. It is essential that businesses, and their stakeholders, know with certainty that success has been achieved. Goal three is the commitment to employ those means that are necessary to achieve confirmation with certainty. Once goals one, two, and three have been achieved, only goal number four remains before we can say with certainty that slavery has been eliminated from a supply chain.

Slavery is like contaminated water flowing across a slate roof, it is always looking for the slightest crack, the smallest opening, through which it can enter and then the poison will spread. As great and difficult as it will be to eradicate slavery from every tier in a supply chain, and across an entire supply chain, and then to confirm that the slavery is gone, one more goal remains: To ensure that slavery never comes back. By adopting this goal, and the constant vigilance that is demanded, a business can assure its stakeholders with certainty that it is committed to eradicating slavery from its supply chains and ensuring that it never returns.

We are the generation that will end slavery.

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