On December 3, 2021, the Biden Administration released a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (“Action Plan”).  The Action Plan focuses on the four pillars of global anti-trafficking efforts – prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships – and is a clarion call to the U.S. public and private sectors to work together to implement more than 60 priority actions to enhance our collective effort to fight this modern form  of human slavery.  In this blog post, we address the key takeaways from the Action Plan most relevant to the private sector, as well as the opportunities for corporations – large and small, global and domestic – to strengthen their business operations, technologies, systems, and processes to help detect, prevent, and, where appropriate, report human trafficking incidents to law enforcement.  

But before we detail the takeaways from the Action Plan, it is critical to note the staggering number of recent human trafficking incidents.  In 2020 in the U.S. alone, 11,193 human trafficking cases were identified by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.1 Globally, almost 25 million people are subjected to human trafficking, generating approximately $150 billion annually in illicit profits. Significantly, of these 25 million trafficking victims, 16 million are in the private sector.2

As a result of these horrifying statistics, the Action Plan seeks to establish a comprehensive approach to combatting human trafficking that emphasizes collaboration between the public and private sectors. Highlighting the worldwide importance of this effort, the U.S.’s issuance of its Action Plan follows immediately after the December 1-3, 2021 meeting of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the largest annual conference focused on human trafficking, which emphasized the need for countries to issue actions plans to coordinate global anti-trafficking responses. 

What is Human Trafficking? 

As defined in the Action Plan, and pursuant to U.S. law, human trafficking is generally understood to take two forms:  

  1. Sex Trafficking: The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which such act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; and 
  2. Labor Trafficking: The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Tragically, those most vulnerable to human trafficking include racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, migrants, people with disabilities, and others from historically marginalized and underserved communities that often experience overlapping social and economic inequities. These inequities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted global supply chains and increased job insecurity, exposing more people than ever to forced labor and exploitation. As a result, the private sector, which is essential to a functioning global marketplace for goods, services, and labor, has an even larger role to play in helping to implement the four pillars of the Action Plan.

The Four Pillars 

The U.S. Action Plan, a three-year comprehensive approach to combat human trafficking, retains a central focus on the four foundational pillars of anti-trafficking: 

  1. Prevention: Prevention includes educating vulnerable populations and mitigating risk factors to stop goods produced with forced labor from entering U.S. markets.
  2. Protection: Protection includes the services needed to help victims of human trafficking and begins with robust outreach and identification efforts.
  3. Prosecution:Prosecution involves holding individuals and entities engaged in human trafficking accountable and dismantling trafficking networks.
  4. Partnerships: Partnering involves a collaboration to implement the other three pillars of prevention, protection, and prosecution of human trafficking. 

Given the centrality of the private sector in global markets, the supply chain, employment, and worker protection, corporations may impact and be impacted by all four pillars to fight trafficking.  

The Key Takeaways 

The Action Plan may require corporations, including financial institutions, to enhance multiple facets of their business operations, including their compliance functions, in order to detect and prevent human trafficking networks. Following are the key takeaways from the Action Plan most relevant to the private sector: 

  1. Anti-Money Laundering (AML): The focus on identifying and dismantling organized human trafficking enterprises by disrupting their financial networks may require corporations to implement new solutions in their AML compliance efforts. 
  2. Know Your Customer (KYC): The focus on preventing goods produced with forced labor from entering U.S. markets and on protecting victims may require corporations to optimize their KYC programs and technologies to quickly and continuously monitor their partners in the global supply chain. 
  3. Sanctions: Similarly, the targeting of individuals and entities that facilitate human trafficking may require corporations to update their blacklists and to effectively utilize technology systems to identify red flags in the supply chain, vendors, and employees.  
  4. Research and Technology (R&T): The Action Plan encourages the development of new and improved technologies for human trafficking interdiction and to identify technical barriers that impede investigations. There may also be greater support for research and development of evidence needed to prevent and respond to human trafficking in the U.S. This effort may not be limited to the public sector and, as a result, may require corporations to expend additional resources on R&T involving human trafficking.  
  5. Information Sharing: Meaningful engagement by the private sector with government agencies and law enforcement is identified in the Action Plan as integral to informing creative solutions and strategic outcomes by diverse actors. As such, corporations may need to implement additional processes and to identify key stakeholders to facilitate this information sharing. 
  6. Employment Sponsorship Programs: There may be an effort to address nonimmigrant visa programs that facilitate the exploitation of visa applicants and holders. As a result, corporations may need to review and update their policies, procedures, and controls related to their employment sponsorship programs. 
  7. Policies, Procedures, and Controls: More generally, corporations may need to review their current policies, procedures, and controls related to, among other business operations, human resources, third-party risk management, and social responsibility, to identify potential gaps and implement enhancements related to the four pillars of anti-trafficking. 
  8. Governance and Social Responsibility (ESG): Corporations may also choose to draft governance principles and/or mission statements that include combatting trafficking as a priority, thereby highlighting their support for social responsibility and worker protection as corporate imperatives. Like the above enhancements, this undertaking may best be seen as an opening, rather than as a burden, to meet the moment in improving corporate culture and demonstrating a commitment to protecting our society’s most vulnerable people. 

In sum, the Action Plan makes abundantly clear that the U.S. government considers the private sector to be a critical partner in the fight against human trafficking. The devastating toll caused by criminal trafficking networks, combined with the upheaval to the global supply chain and the economic inequities amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, have presented corporations with a unique opportunity to strengthen their operations, processes, systems, and technologies to help lead this fight. Needless to say, there is no better time or reason to seize this opportunity.

Footnotes:

1. U.S. Department of State – Trafficking in Persons Report (2021) 
2. International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation – Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (2017) 

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