Accountable from Beginning to End: Transparency in Supply Chains

California, often known for its forward thinking, has done it again. A recent article posted in a business newspaper announced training for a new California law that would combat child labor and slavery. This law went under many people’s radar, unless they were tied to a $100 million manufacturing company.

Beginning January 1, 2012, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 (SB 657) will go into effect in the State of California. This law is intended to increase the amount of information made available by manufacturers and retailers regarding their efforts to deal with slavery and human trafficking, thereby allowing consumers to make better, more informed choices concerning the products they buy and the companies they choose to support.

Slavery and human trafficking can take many forms, including forced labor and child labor. As a result many companies have already begun to examine their procurement processes to ensure and verify the absence of forced labor and or child labor in their supply chains. It is only a natural progression from large retailers and manufacturers to the agricultural industry and their supply chain. The past couple of years the news has been filled with stories about human trafficking, slave labor, and legalized child labor in U.S. agriculture. Children as young as 12 years old are legally allowed to labor in agriculture for an unlimited amount of hours outside of school. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been spearheading the penny-per-pound campaign that addresses the increase of farm labor standards in supply chains across the tomato industry as a whole.

It is estimated that as many as 500,000 farmworker children are toiling in America’s fields; they have fewer protections than all other children who work in all other occupations, as a result of an antiquated exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This reality allows for exploitative employment practices and violates international laws regarding the treatment of children. Furthermore, farmworker children pay a higher price for the small amount they earn by working in the fields.  Many farmworker children face real peril in their work, using dangerous farm equipment and working in an environment that continually exposes them to poisonous pesticides–conditions deemed illegal in every other industry and that can lead to serious injury or even death.

As the American Home Furnishings Alliance Vice President of Communications Pat Bowling stated in the article, this will have rippling effects. “I think we can expect that this is the beginning of closer scrutiny of global supply chain management,” Bowling said. “Even though this is only in California (and affects larger companies), it won’t be long before companies doing business outside of California and smaller companies will have to take a close look at this issue.”

The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs continues to raise awareness through its Children in the Fields Campaign and “Year of the Farmworker Child” about the plight of farmworker children. However, it is not something that we can do alone. Sign on in support and help educate one more person so as educated consumers, we can make the better choices. What if that information was made available to us in the grocery store: would you willingly buy blueberries you knew were picked by 12-year-olds working in perilous conditions?

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