The social and economic devastation of the Covid pandemic has eroded years of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2020 global labor income fell by USD $3.7 trillion; over 100 million people were pushed into unemployment; and 108 million people were pushed into poverty. The weight of this devastation is borne disproportionately by vulnerable populations, including migrant workers. 

As the Covid crisis evolves — and its long-term effects are understood — the business community has a critical responsibility to consider how we can help rebuild economies on a more resilient foundation of respect for human rights. Human trafficking, including forced labor, is among the most egregious and endemic human rights challenges of our time. It feeds a sprawling and illicit global business worth USD $150 billion annually. An estimated 25 million people are in forced labor, many of whom are in industries that may feed into global supply chains. Migrant workers are particularly susceptible, due to language barriers, lack of access to health care, poor living conditions and stigmatism associated with immigration status. The pandemic has exacerbated the challenge.

As Vice President of Global Human Rights at The Coca-Cola Company, I am proud to oversee a global program focused on embedding respect for human rights into every aspect of our operation and value chain. The battle against forced labor is at the heart of our program. The fight demands internal commitment. But, in the face of a wrong so pervasive, none of us succeed alone. That’s why we are committed to engaging with companies and stakeholders who share our commitment.  

The Consumer Goods Forum’s Human Rights Coalition – Working to End Forced Labor (HRC) is devoted to “harnessing the power of collective action” among member companies to effect practical and lasting change in forced labor practices across the world. Along with Veronika Pountcheva of Metro AG, I am proud to serve as HRC co-chair to advance this critical mission. 

In 2016 HRC identified the forced labor practices that are both most problematic and most prevalent; these informed our Priority Industry Principles devoted to addressing SDG 8.7, the eradication of forced labor, child labor and human trafficking. Our work is now focused on supporting individual and collective member action in three key workstreams: 1) Implementing forced labor due diligence in our own operations; 2) Developing and implementing systemic measures to tackle labor abuses in palm oil supply chains; and 3) Supporting responsible recruitment through government advocacy and public-private cooperation in high-risk countries. 

Earlier this year the coalition published its Human Rights Due Diligence in Own Operations Maturity Journey Framework—outlining the actions members can take to fight forced labor—which we are now implementing with the help of the Fair Labor Association. I’ll be participating in a panel on Day 2 of the Sustainable Retail Summit to discuss the work of our Coalition during a segment entitled “A Unique Partnership to Eradicate Forced Labour” — I hope you can join us.

Throughout the pandemic, The Coca-Cola Company and our peer consumer goods companies of all sizes have focused not only on ensuring business continuity and keeping workers safe, but also on innovative ways to contribute fighting COVID-19. Companies lent manufacturing expertise, diverted core products to aid disaster relief efforts and made meaningful philanthropic funds available. Let’s take this opportunity to act with the same urgency to respect the dignity of everyone in our supply chains. CGF is uniquely positioned to address such intransigent and global challenges through our diverse supply chains and our shared commitment to a better tomorrow.

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