Corporate Liability and Human Trafficking

In our world of increased globalization and worldwide movement of goods and capital, companies can face legal liability if they fail to guard against human trafficking not just in their direct operations but also in their supply chains. Legal liability can, in turn, hurt the reputation of companies and the interests of their investors. This paper examines how human trafficking can expose companies to legal liabilities and briefly describes actions they can take to protect themselves. It separates statutes into two groups: those written to target human trafficking specifically and those written to target other criminal activities that can be applied to human trafficking.


The legal and regulatory environment related to human trafficking is evolving as global focus on accountability for human rights violations increases. Federal and state governments in the United States have recently adopted—and continue to consider—laws and regulations designed to strengthen governmental capacity to combat human trafficking and prosecute those directly or indirectly involved. While many such laws and regulations are focused on civil sanctions against direct perpetrators, more recent efforts seek accountability for individuals and entities indirectly culpable for, among other things, failing to halt trafficking within their businesses’ supply chains.


Longstanding federal statutes and regulations also offer opportunities to crack down on human trafficking. Government regulations and strong enforcement should serve to ensure that responsible businesses are able to operate on a level playing field. Additionally, rules and regulations applied to U.S.-based companies operating globally by non-U.S. and/or non-governmental entities present grounds for caution in the face of potential enterprise-related trafficking activity. Preventing forced labor in supply chains will both protect companies from potential liability and promote their status as good global citizens.


Published on December 9, 2015


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