Today is Anti-Slavery Day and as shocking as it is, in 2019, it’s estimated that over 40.3 million people globally are victims of modern slavery. According to the ILO, nearly 25 million victims work in factories, on construction sites, farms, fishing boats or as sex workers. The truth is, you’ve probably purchased or come into contact with products made by these victims multiple times throughout the day.
Modern slavery ranges from debt bondage and forced labor, to human trafficking and child slavery. Through research, on-site due diligence, and engagement with supplier facilities and industry groups, we have identified that the salient risks in our supply chain are related to the risk of forced labor, specifically the risk of bonded labor and forced student labor.
Looking for economic opportunities abroad, foreign migrant workers are often faced with having to make the decision of paying illegal or unethical recruitment fees or going without work. Recruitment fees can be as high as $6,000 (USD), which can lead to workers taking out loans or pulling from savings, overall increasing their level of indebtedness and the likelihood of debt bondage.
We believe the business community plays a role in the effort to eradicate forced labor, and more specifically, must implement policies and standards for their own supply chains. At HPE, we have adopted the “Employer Pays Principle”, which means workers shall not pay fees to obtain a job. Should workers pay fees during the recruitment process, we require these fees to be reimbursed by suppliers. When enforced, these policies help to ensure that employers in supply chains absorb the true cost of recruitment and prohibit the charging of recruitment costs to workers, in accordance with international standards and regulations.
HPE works to lead our industry and to influence other sectors to protect workers from the risks of forced labor. We developed the industry’s first Foreign Migrant Worker Standard in 2015, and in 2018, KnowTheChain ranked HPE third in their corporate benchmark of 40 ICT companies for our efforts to address forced labor in our supply chain.
While it’s important to celebrate our successes, we know the problem persists. For this reason, HPE has engaged with suppliers to provide guidance, training, and in-depth research to better understand the root causes and enabling environment that contribute to forced labor in supply chains.
Most recently, HPE commissioned Verité to research the impact of foreign migrant work security bonds in Singapore and Malaysia, where a number of our suppliers are located, to better understand if such bonds and other potential existing financial mechanisms could influence how suppliers recruit and employ foreign migrant workers.
While there is still much work to be done to address this larger problem, HPE is eager to share this research with our industry peers and key stakeholders in order to further the conversation and collective action on the issue.