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(c) Matt Niemi "Corporation" CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Corporate Social Responsibility and TIP Heroes

Marilyn Carlson Nelson combats human trafficking through her business and engages business leaders to do the same. Business leaders all over the world are realizing the importance of keeping their supply chains clean.

“Traffickers often use the travel and hospitality industry as a facilitator. Airlines are used to transport victims and hotels can unknowingly be used as the settings for this illicit activity. We felt we had the tools and resources to make a difference. As a family-owned business, once we learned of the millions of children who are used for sexual purposes in the travel and tourism industry worldwide, we could not turn away.  This became our focus.”

This was former Carlson Companies CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson’s response when asked why her company chose to fight human trafficking. Made aware of the problem of human trafficking, she decided to do something about it. She used her position as a successful businesswoman and CEO to influence the world. Carlson Companies became the first travel company to sign the ECPAT Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism and won the first “Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons” in 2013. Ms. Carlson Nelson has won numerous awards, including being named a TIP Report Hero and receiving the Business Leader’s Award to Fight Human Trafficking from UNGIFT.

This month we are focusing on business solutions to human trafficking and TIP Heroes that have utilized business strategies and connections to help fight modern slavery. Marilyn Carlson Nelson has fought against human trafficking by utilizing an incredibly important concept: corporate social responsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, emerged in the mid-20th century as the world began to explore the concept of human rights and environmental protection. While a broad scope of activities fall into the category of CSR, the focus more recently has been on corporations’ activities overseas and their supply chains. Although the concept of CSR was first defined in the 1950s, CSR as applied to human rights was not really incorporated into mainstream business strategies until the 1990s, when environmental groups and human rights activists began to protest corporate abuses abroad. The sweatshop movement of the mid-1990s focused exclusively on corporate responsibility for low wages and labor abuse in the factories of the developing world. As a result, consumers began to care about corporate sustainability—ensuring low environmental impact and fair labor. But the move towards CSR in the 1990s has come with its challenges, and CSR has only began to be incorporated into the business world. One major challenge is globalization. The globalized economy created a complex system of suppliers and corporations that lends itself to a diffusion of responsibility. Thus, corporations can claim not to be responsible for labor abuse that occurs in their supply chains but can still access the low-price goods and resell them to make a profit. 


(c) Nick Saltmarsh CC-BY www.flickr.com

The human trafficking movement has utilized the concept of CSR, recognizing it as a powerful way to combat the international crime of modern slavery. The ideals of the fair sourcing of goods, supply chain management, and a responsible investment footprint are not unique to the human trafficking field, but they certainly help to guarantee that the product is made using free labor. But Supply chain management is not the only way that corporations can engage in responsible corporate practices.

The Code of Conduct for Tourism

Corporations interact with human trafficking in a variety of ways. Corporations buy goods that are made by a variety of other corporations which probably pull from unregulated suppliers. These supply chains, as they are called, encourage suppliers to provide goods at the lowest price possible. For example, seafood processors sell their frozen shrimp to large grocery corporations. They compete for prices and make very little profit as a result. Sometimes, those suppliers drive down their costs by paying their workers less. Sometimes, they even enslave them. Another way that corporations interact with human trafficking is when their services or products are inadvertently used by traffickers. As Marilyn Carlson Nelson noted, corporations can be an unknowing and unwilling “facilitators” of modern slavery.

In 1996, the organization ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) organized a World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. One of the driving forces behind this congress was the rise of child sex tourism, where individuals would travel from more developed countries to less developed countries in order to purchase children for sexual purposes. After the conference, ECPAT developed a Code of Conduct, titled “The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code),” in partnership with the UN World Tourism Organization.

The Code has now developed into a separate organization and continues to recruit organizations to sign on. It requires a set of six steps: develop procedures, train employees, include boilerplate language in employee contracts, provide information to travelers, engage stakeholders, and report annually on The Code’s implementation. Carlson Companies was the first North American travel company to sign on to The Code.  Furthermore, Carlson Companies is a member of the Global Business Coalition to End Human Trafficking (gBCAT) and has helped fund various anti-human trafficking organizations around the world.

How to Encourage Corporate Social Responsibility

Consumers have power in the marketplace. One way to pursue responsible corporate policies is to buy products made from companies that are certified in some way, that are committed to using fair labor, and that are talking about this issue. For more information about certifications, see this blog post on EndSlaveryNow. Another way is to encourage businesspeople you know to ensure that they are using slave-free labor, buying goods from slave-free suppliers, and not acting as unknowing facilitators for human traffickers.

Corporate social responsibility is a powerful concept that can have an incredible impact in the fight against modern slavery. But it hasn’t gone nearly far enough. We need committed businesspeople, like Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who are willing to make this fight personal. Consumers need to vote with their dollars, and businesspeople need to act with their consciences.

Check back next week for TIP Hero Pierre Tami’s blog post about social enterprises!