Supply chain slavery : the case for corporate responsibility beyond direct suppliers

Schoeman, Cynthia Therese (2020-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Human rights abuse in employment practices is especially widespread in corporate supply chains. These abuses are increasingly recognised as modern slavery, which is defined as “forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking … [that] refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power” (UN nd.). Slavery is therefore not simply an historical atrocity – it is a current, global and pervasive problem. The corporate imperative to address modern slavery derives both from the gross abuse of human rights as well as the magnitude of the problem. As an illustration of the scale of the problem, the Atlantic slave trade, which lasted for almost four centuries, from the 16th to the 19th century, is put at 11.9 million people (Lovejoy 1989:368), while currently 40.3 million people are victims of contemporary forms of slavery (Global Slavery Index 2018). This thesis sets out a case for corporate responsibility for modern slavery beyond direct suppliers and their employees since there is a greater risk of modern slavery in distant, indirect and sub-tier suppliers (LeBaron 2014:245). There are three overarching arguments in favour of such a broadened definition of corporate responsibility. The first argument is that all suppliers‟ employees can be categorised as stakeholders of the corporation. This means that the principles of stakeholder theory apply, which dictate that these employees‟ interests and wellbeing fall within the scope of a corporation‟s responsibility. In terms of the nature and scope of such corporate responsibility, leverage-based as well as negative corporate responsibility is proposed. The former refers to responsibility beyond “direct and indirect contributions to social … impacts” to include influencing “the actions of other actors through its relationships” (Wood 2012:64), which extends beyond direct suppliers. As regards the latter, negative responsibility is advocated, namely „to do no harm‟ (with positive responsibility being „to do good‟). This is proposed in light of the often onerous scope of positive responsibility. This dual stance on corporate responsibility is supported by three global frameworks that focus on corporate human rights responsibility: the United Nations Global Compact, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. A further argument supporting corporate responsibility beyond direct suppliers stems from corporations‟ complicity in the formation of lengthy, fragmented and complex supply chains in pursuit of the goals of reduced cost and risk – where that structure often creates conditions that lead to human rights abuse. These business goals and their negative consequences have the added effect of undermining the CSR goal of eradicating modern slavery. The deliberate creation and pursuit of this business model augments the case for corporate responsibility for modern slavery beyond direct suppliers. The thesis therefore concludes that corporate responsibility for modern slavery should extend beyond direct suppliers to apply throughout corporations‟ entire supply chain.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die skending van menseregte onder indiensnemingspraktyke kom veral voor in korporatiewe voorsieningskettings. Hierdie misbruike word toenemend beskou as „n vorm van moderne slawerny, wat omskryf word as, “gedwonge arbeid, skuldgebondenheid, gedwonge huwelik, en mensehandel … [wat] verwys na situasies waarin mense uitgebuit word en nie die vermoë het om die situasie te weier of te verlaat nie, weens dreigemente, geweld, dwang, misleiding, en/of die misbruik van mag” (UN nd.). Slawerny kan dus nie net bloot as „n historiese gruweldaad beskou word nie – dit is „n aktuele, globale en omvattende probleem. Die noodsaaklikheid vir maatskappye om moderne slawerny aan te spreek, vind sy oorsprong beide in die ernstige skending van menseregte, sowel as die omvang van die probleem. Ter illustrasie van die probleem, word dit beraam dat 11.9 miljoen mense betrokke was by die Atlantiese slawehandel (Lovejoy 1989:368), wat bykans vier eeue, van die 16de tot die 19de eeu, geduur het, terwyl 40.3 miljoen mense vandag slagoffers is van modern vorme van slawerny (Global Slavery Index 2018). Hierdie tesis poog om „n saak te stel ter verdediging van korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid vir moderne slawerny, wat verder reik as net direkte verskaffers en hul werknemers, aangesien daar „n groter risiko bestaan vir moderne slawerny onder ver-verwyderde, indirekte en laer-vlak verskaffers. Daar kan drie oorkoepelende argumente gemaak word ten gunste van so 'n breër definisie van korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid. Die eerste argument is dat alle werknemers van verskaffers as belanghebbendes van die onderneming beskou kan word. Dit beteken dat die teorie van belanghebbendes van toepassing is, wat dan bepaal dat hierdie werknemers se belange en welstand binne die bestek van „n maatskappy se verantwoordelikheid val. Wat die aard en omvang van sodanige korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid betref, word „n hefboomstelsel, sowel as negatiewe korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid voorgestel. Eersgenoemde verwys na verantwoordelikhede bo en behalwe “direkte en indirekte bydraes tot sosiale … impakte” om die invloed van “die optredes van ander akteurs deur hul verhoudings” in te sluit (Wood 2012:64), wat verder as direkte verskaffers strek. Wat laasgenoemde betref, word negatiewe verantwoordelikheid verdedig, dit wil sê, „om geen kwaad te doen nie‟ (waar positiewe verantwoordelikheid weer verstaan word as, „om goed te doen‟). Dit word voorgestel as gevolg van die dikwels veeleisende omvang van positiewe verantwoordelikheid. Hierdie tweeledige posisie ten opsigte van korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid word ondersteun deur drie globale raamwerke wat spesifiek fokus op korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid ten opsigete van menseregte: die Verenigde Nasies se Globale Verdrag, die Verenigde Nasies se Riglyne vir Sake en Menseregte, en die Organisasie vir Ekonomiese Samewerking en Ontwikkeling se riglyne vir multinasionale ondernemings. Nog „n argument ter verdediging van korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid wat verder as direkte verskaffers strek, ontstaan as gevolg van korporasies se medepligtigheid in die vorming van lang, gefragmenteerde en ingewikkelde voorsieningskettings. Die gejaag na die vermindering van koste en risiko's, lei tot strukture wat dikwels toestande skep wat lei tot die skending van menseregte. Hierdie besigheidsdoelwitte en hul negatiewe gevolge, het die addisionele negatiewe impak om die oorhoofse doelwitte van korporatiewe sosiale verantwoordelikheid, naamlik om moderne slawerny uit te roei, te ondermyn. Die doelbewuste skepping en najaag van so „n besigheidsmodel versterk die argument vir die noodsaaklikheid van korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid om verder te strek as bloot direkte verskaffers en vir maatskappy om verantwoordelikheid te neem vir hul rol in moderne slawerny. Hierdie tesis kom dus tot die gevolgtrekking dat korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid vir moderne slawerny verder as net direkte verskaffers moet strek, om sodoende van toepassing te wees op die korporatiewe onderneming se algehele voorsieningsketting.

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