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Continuing on the topic of human rights due diligence in supply chains from last week … Most supply chain due diligence efforts are focused on facilities outside the US – mainly in Asia. We tend to think that here in the US, forced labor is essentially non-existent. That isn’t necessarily true, however. Bloomberg recently wrote about the prevalence of prison labor in private company supply chains:

“There are 800,000 incarcerated workers in the US, and they do roughly $10 billion worth of work a year, more than $2 billion of it for clients outside the prison system, according to a 2022 study by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Chicago…

Prison labor touches almost every corner of American life. Prisoners farm on former slave plantations in Louisiana and upholster high school auditorium furniture in Massachusetts. They produce Russell Stover chocolates in Kansas and handle DMV customer service calls in New York… Utah’s prison labor agency alone has provided goods or services to hundreds of private clients over the past decade, including the Boy Scouts of America, Cold Stone Creamery, the Nature Conservancy, Smithfield Foods and the Sundance Film Festival, according to documents obtained via a public records request. Earlier this year, an Associated Press investigation found prison labor in the supply chains of dozens of prominent companies including Cargill, Coca-Cola, Kroger, Target and Walmart.” 

The ACLU/University of Chicago report provides more background:

“Incarcerated workers are under the complete control of their employers, and they have been stripped of even the most minimal protections against labor exploitation and abuse. From the moment they enter the prison gates, they lose the right to refuse to work. This is because the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which generally protects against slavery and involuntary servitude, explicitly excludes from its reach those held in confinement due to a criminal conviction… Incarcerated workers are not covered by minimum wage laws or overtime protection, are not afforded the right to unionize, and are denied workplace safety guarantees.”

Corporate supply chains are subjected to hundreds if not thousands of human rights/workplace condition audits each year. Most companies have supplier codes of conduct, contract terms and/or PO conditions prohibiting the use of forced labor by their suppliers. Are you applying those standards and controls equally to suppliers/manufacturers in the US?

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile