Sen. Hawley Introduces Bill to Hold Corporations Accountable for Slave Labor in Supply Chains

July 20, 2020 Updated: July 20, 2020

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) upcoming bill aims to hold large American companies responsible for ensuring there is no slave labor in their supply chains.

The Slave-Free Business Certification Act expands corporate supply chain transparency requirements, orders regular audits, mandates CEOs to certify that their companies’ products do not rely on forced, slave labor, and penalizes companies that fail to meet these basic standards.

“American corporations like @NBA and @Nike and others should not be profiting off forced, slave labor,” Hawley wrote in a tweet. “I am introducing legislation to require multinationals to certify that they don’t use slave labor-or face penalties.”

According to the International Labor Office (ILO) 2016 report (pdf) on modern slavery, 40 million people were victims of modern slavery, with an estimated 25 million people in forced labor. The Chinese communist regime is well known for its labor camps that utilize prisoners of conscience, of which two of the largest groups are Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority.

According to testimony submitted to the U.S. Congress in 2005, Mr. Gregory Xu (pdf), a Falun Gong practitioner and researcher, “Over the past 20 years, it is estimated that between 200,000 and 1 million Falun Gong adherents have been reportedly sent to forced labor camps without trials. More than 180 forced labor camps in China have directly participated in the persecution through illegal forced labor.”

In 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report (pdf) “Uyghurs for sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labor and surveillance beyond Xinjiang,” which identified 83 foreign and Chinese companies as allegedly benefiting on some level from the use of forced, slave labor, including the labor of Uyghurs.

Among the 83 companies implicated, were Amazon, BMW, Gap, H&M, Nike, North Face, Puma, and Samsung as allegedly having force labor in their supply chains.

“If corporate America wants to be the face of social change today, they should have to certify they are completely slave-free. Participate in independent audits to verify it and disclose steps to ensure slave labor won’t become part of the equation later on. And if they refuse to do so, they should pay the price. That’s social responsibility,” Hawley said in a statement Monday.

Hawley’s bill requires every company with annual gross receipts of $500 million or more to conduct an audit of its supply chain to assess if anywhere in their supply chain forced labor is being utilized.

Additionally, businesses’ CEOs will be responsible to submit a report to the Labor Department each year, detailing the company’s efforts to remove slave labor from all levels of their production.

Hawley wants the report to be published on the company’s website, with a conspicuous link on the homepage.

“I wonder how much @NBA merchandise-jerseys, shoes @Nike apparel- is made with slave labor,” Hawley wrote earlier in the month.

Sports apparel giant Nike, in its response to the ASPI  report, said it is committed to ensuring that those who make their products are valued.

“Nike is committed to upholding international labor standards and we are continuing to evaluate how to best monitor our compliance standards in light of the complexity of this situation,” the Nike statement (pdf) said. “The Nike Code of Conduct and Code Leadership Standards have requirements prohibiting any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor, including detailed provisions for freedom of movement and prohibitions on discrimination based on ethnic background or religion.”

Meanwhile, Amazon’s response to the allegations of slave labor in its supply chain was one of surprise, releasing a statement vowing to investigate the matter.

“We are committed to upholding international labor standards. Given this complex situation, we have taken immediate steps to investigate the Australian Strategic Policy Institute findings and to actively collaborate with industry partners, subject matter experts, governments and other relevant stakeholders to further enhance our due diligence efforts in line with Australian Strategic Policy Institute recommendations,” Amazon statement (pdf) said.

Hawley referred to the ASPI report saying that more than 80 global companies have been tied to forced Uyghur labor in China but the issue goes beyond China.

“These issues extend beyond China. For example, Starbucks and Nespresso rely on underpaid Brazilian laborers who are denied basic necessities like food and water,” Hawley’s office wrote.