How to be a law firm or business that leads in the fight against trafficking

Amidst the election buzz on 7th May, three voices could be heard speaking out about an issue that should matter to everyone. Parosha Chandran, Matt Moriarty and Colleen Theron discussed human trafficking as part of the LexisNexis webinar ‘ Tackling trafficking: how to combat modern day slavery’.

From the discussion came a very real question, posed to all businesses and law firms: do you want to be a leader in the fight against trafficking? If so, read on.

The Legal Framework

The webinar began with the recognition that it is crucial to be equipped with knowledge of the law that governs trafficking and modern day slavery. This comprises international treaties and domestic legislation, all of which were the subject of an excellent analysis by Parosha. In the UK, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (which has received royal assent, but is not yet in force) requires that companies publish an annual human trafficking statement (on whether this is effective, see my previous post). It is therefore necessary for businesses and the lawyers who advise them to understand the implications of the relevant provisions.

Beyond the legal framework, there are a few ways in which businesses and law firms can make a difference.

Be a Business that Leads

Businesses may contribute to trafficking directly or indirectly. To combat direct contributions, it is important to be able to identify a victim of trafficking. In this respect, both the UNODC and ILO have helpfully developed trafficking indicators. However, in the UK the only way for a potential victim of trafficking to be officially recognised as such is if a certified ‘First Responder’ refers them to the National Referral Mechanism. If that sounds confusing, take a few moments to watch Matt’s explanation of the process.

To prevent indirect contributions to trafficking, businesses should assess the practices of their suppliers. Colleen’s presentation identified specific indicators of trafficking in the supply chain, as well as resources available to assist those companies that want to evaluate their own supply chains. She also challenged those businesses truly committed to fighting trafficking to develop proactive policies to manage risks and to implement processes to ensure that the policies are effective.

Be a Law Firm that Leads

As Colleen points out in the webinar, law firms have a role to play as advisors to their clients and as a business entity. In respect of the former, law firms should consider how best to advise their clients. This includes looking beyond hard law to policies and principles that could be used to inform advice. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a good starting point for those seeking suitable steps beyond mere legal compliance.

Additionally, law firms can support projects and/or law centres working to combat trafficking. As Matt notes, the Early Legal Intervention project – on which he is working on behalf of the AIRE Centre – has benefited from the pro bono contributions of committed lawyers. Beyond this, law firms can seek to develop collaborative partnerships. Parosha highlighted a particularly poignant example: the Signal litigation in the US. The litigation arose from claims by Indian workers, who had paid fees to recruiters in order to work in the US on the false promise that they would receive green cards and permanent US residency. Signal exploited the fact that, unable to take up alternative work (due to legal restrictions on guest workers) and faced with the prospect of significant debts if they returned home, the men were trapped. Law centres that took up the cause were supported by several ‘Biglaw’ firms. These firms used their expertise and resources to truly fight the case, which has recently seen the workers awarded millions of dollars. The litigation shows the invaluable role that law firms have to play in the fight against trafficking, and is an example to be followed.

The fight against trafficking is one in which businesses and law firms have a crucial role to play. Take the time to think about how you can reach beyond the basic legal framework in order to lead in the fight against trafficking.

To watch ‘Tackling Trafficking: how to combat modern day slavery’, click here. It is free to view and available for a year.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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