Over the last decade, the world’s largest corporations – from The Coca Cola Company to Amazon, Apple to Unilever – have taken up the cause of combatting modern slavery. Yet, by most measures, across many sectors and regions, severe labor exploitation continues to soar. Corporate social responsibility is not working. Why? In this talk, Genevieve LeBaron will explore why over twenty years of corporate social responsibility initiatives have failed to produce worksites that are free of forced labor, modern slavery, and human trafficking, in spite of this being a key aim. Drawing on ground-level data in tea, cocoa, and garment supply chains – including over 1,200 interviews with vulnerable workers at the base of global supply chains – she will explore how dynamics of corporate power, profit, and consolidation, and supply chain dynamics give rise to forced labor. She will argue that the booming private industry of accounting firms, social auditors and consultants that have emerged to monitor and enforce labor standards do little to disrupt business models configured around forced labor, and ultimately, while corporate social responsibility serves to bolster corporate growth and legitimacy, it is failing to protect the world's most vulnerable workers.
Genevieve LeBaron is Professor of Politics and Co-director of Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on the business dynamics of forced labor, labor standards, corporate governance, and global supply chains. She has recently published a new book about capitalism and slavery, "Combatting Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance is Failing and What We Can Do About It" (Polity, 2020).