The Mekong Club: Empowering the Private Sector to Lead in the Fight against Modern Slavery

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Most people think slavery is a heinous practice that no longer exists. Actually, it is thriving. According to the Global Slavery Index, 45.8 million men, women and children are languishing in slavery-like conditions today. 66% of them – or over 30 million – are in the Asia-Pacific region.

Modern slavery works through a complex system of deception, threats, criminal activities, financial indebtedness and violence. Even though traditionally this phenomenon has been associated with forced prostitution, trafficking for commercial sex makes up about 25% of the total cases. Most victims are found in forced-labor conditions, with 60% of cases occurring in manufacturing supply chains.

Slavery is pure business. Perpetrators of this crime are driven by high – and steady – profit. Selling an illegal commodity makes a one-off profit for the criminals involved, while exploiting a person for his or her labor produces an ongoing income as long as that person is able to work. Profit from slavery amounts to $150 billion (USD) every year, making it the third highest profitable criminal activity after drug trafficking and counterfeiting.

Sadly, we are losing the fight against this human rights violation. According to the most recent U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, only 66,500 victims were identified and helped in 2016. The world is not even helping 0.2 % of the victims.

The main reason for this failure is an inadequate response. Traditionally, slavery has been addressed by governments, United Nations agencies and the nonprofit world, without any involvement from the private sector. But the private sector is in a perfect position to bring change. Supply-chain issues and financial crimes associated with the laundering of ill-gotten proceeds must be addressed by those who deal with these mechanisms every day: manufacturers, retailers, banks and the broader business community.

Some companies have been alienated by NGOs that use a “naming and shaming approach” and publicly accuse them of profiting from unethical labor. While this approach has surely aimed the spotlight in the right direction, it also has had the negative effect of scaring away the most critical players in the fight against slavery.

The Mekong Club’s mission is to bridge this gap and restore confidence and hope that slavery can be eradicated through a leadership role played by businesses. Using an association model, we offer a platform for best-practice sharing, mentoring and dialogue around the main challenges companies face in addressing slavery practices touching their business operations. Through each of our four industry-specific working groups – banking, retail, manufacturing and hospitality - we collaboratively work on impactful responses to each of these challenges. Our projects include e-learning courses, capacity building, technical training programs and resources that empower businesses to step up and lead in the fight against slavery.

By encouraging companies to be changemakers we not only pave the way for more ethical, more sustainable business practices, but we also trigger a “top-to-bottom” effect – from the headquarters to the bottom tiers of the supply chain – that can positively impact millions of lives. For more information and to join please visit www.themekongclub.org and contact [email protected].