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January 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And though it's a global issue, small businesses in the United States may indeed have a role to play in the effort to stop human trafficking.
While some may only associate human trafficking with sexual slavery, the term actually applies to all people who are harbored or recruited to perform labor through force, fraud, or coercion, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement explains.
Companies are becoming more aware of trafficked people in the workplace and can take active steps to stop human trafficking.
One way small business owners can help curb human trafficking is by keeping an eye on their own hiring practices.
Though businesses are often keen to save money wherever they can, that's no excuse to hire human trafficking victims. In one recent case, federal agents busted 7-Eleven store owners accused of exploiting undocumented workers. The owners allegedly stole identities from U.S. citizens to give to the workers and forced them to work 100 hours a week at $3 an hour. By allegedly forcing the laborers to live in homes provided by the owners, the illegal immigrants were indebted to their bosses.
Although the 7-Eleven case is an extreme example, business owners should always follow their state's wage and labor laws.
Also, keep in mind that trafficked victims aren't always from other countries -- U.S. citizens can be trafficked between states too.
Another way to help stop human trafficking is to be aware of your suppliers' hiring practices. Several large companies, like Apple and Safeway, have scrutinized their supply chains more closely. For example, Apple released the names of some of their suppliers and have hired outside auditors to inspect their suppliers' working conditions. Like Apple, Safeway has implemented policies of validating the procedures of all of their suppliers, according to Inside Counsel.
Small business can follow in these corporate giants' footsteps and make sure their goods are coming from ethical and law-abiding sources. One way to accomplish that goal is to research your suppliers; non-profit organizations like Human Rights Watch keep close tabs on human trafficking violations.
If you're concerned about your labor practices or want to ensure that you're following wage and labor laws correctly, an experienced employment law lawyer can provide some guidance.
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