Corporations Can Fight Human Trafficking, Say Business Leaders

By Mary Silver
Mary Silver
Mary Silver
Mary Silver writes columns, grows herbs, hikes, and admires the sky. She likes critters, and thinks the best part of being a journalist is learning new stuff all the time. She has a Masters from Emory University, serves on the board of the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and belongs to the Association of Health Care Journalists.
October 2, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
Human trafficking is globalization's worst secret, yet global businesses have the power to end it.
Human trafficking is globalization's worst secret, yet global businesses have the power to end it.

ATLANTA—Not only is slavery still here, globalization has increased it, according to a group of business leaders. Human trafficking is globalization’s worst secret, yet global businesses have the power to end it, was the consensus. David Arkless, president of Corporate and Government Affairs for Manpower, is devoted to abolishing human trafficking. He developed what he thinks are practical anti-slavery tools for businesses.

“I’ve been with Manpower 25 years—only meant to stay for six months,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. About seven or eight years ago the company rebranded, and asked its customers what they thought the company stood for, he said. Despite its size and stability, with a presence in 90 countries over 60 years, its customers said Manpower did not really stand for anything globally.

To Arkless, it stands for, “Giving everyone the opportunity for safe work, paid work, decent work. What’s the opposite?” Slavery.

His company focused on what it stands for on three global issues, he said. They are trafficked people, refugee communities, and the quarter of a billion displaced people that work outside of their countries of origin.

To prevent abuse of workers, companies should check their supply chains, to make sure no bonded workers, trafficked people, or abused workers are part of it. Business travelers should sign a pledge not to hire prostitutes.

Arkless was instrumental in developing the Athens Ethical Principles in 2006. The seven principles require a company to “Explicitly demonstrate the position of zero tolerance toward trafficking in human beings,” to raise awareness of trafficking in order to prevent it, to encourage governments to make and enforce laws about it, and to “Ensure that our personnel fully comply with our anti-trafficking policy,” among other things.

He felt pleased with the AEP and assumed all participants would rush to sign on. He said, “I naively thought this would be great,” but only three of 1,000 were willing to promise. Some were afraid if they signed a pledge they might be vulnerable to lawsuits from their own employees or workers in their supply chains.

“Then I started to think smart.” He looked at the environmental movement, “how they got a high level of awareness.” He approached shareholders, ethical fund management groups, activist groups, and global trade unions. The motto was, “Safe work for everyone.”
Then he went back to the companies. At first 20 signed the pledge, then 14,000, but “I want 14 million,” Arkless said.

Once there was momentum, he began to think of enforcement; a “global police force” was needed. How could that be practical? Partner companies including Nike and Microsoft developed online training to raise awareness. Employees would become internal advocates. They would be the police.

“The best police force in the world is employees,” said Arkless. “They blow whistles. They say, ‘We are not doing that in Colombia.’”

He hit a roadblock. Manpower said “Are you mad?”

To demonstrate his sanity, he studied the effect of having employees “engaged in a cause they believe in.” He said each time an experienced person leaves a company, it costs one year in lost salary to replace and train a new person. He measured a group of employees in Sweden who were raising money for women refugees and doing anti-trafficking programs and advocacy. He found attrition was halved for those employees.

Arkless calculated cutting attrition by 42 percent saved $1.7 million. If it were multiplied for the whole company, it would save tens of millions. So encouraging employees to work on the three global issues went from “not just a good humanitarian thing but more profitable,” he said, twinkling again.

Arkless began a three-year tenure as vice president of the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (Ciett) on Oct. 2. One of his goals for Ciett during his tenure will be to, “Focus the industry on efforts to eradicate the use of human beings as commodities, especially concentrating on the crime of human trafficking,” according to a statement.

Manpower was named one the world’s most ethical companies in 2011 by Ethisphere. Arkless was a panelist at Womenetics Global Women’s Inititative: the ripple effect, in Atlanta on Sept. 30. Womenetics founder and CEO Elizabeth Marchant said in the event program, “The issues of human trafficking, economic empowerment, health, and education face us as much in Atlanta as they do around the world.”

Mary Silver
Mary Silver writes columns, grows herbs, hikes, and admires the sky. She likes critters, and thinks the best part of being a journalist is learning new stuff all the time. She has a Masters from Emory University, serves on the board of the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and belongs to the Association of Health Care Journalists.