International conference: how government and business can tackle trafficking in human beings in supply chains?

Yesterday, 26th of September, an international conference on “The public-private partnership in the fight against trafficking in human beings: how government and business can tackle trafficking in human beings in supply chains”, jointly organized by the British Embassy Sofia and the National Commission for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB), took place.

The international forum was opened by H.E. Emma Hopkins OBE, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Bulgaria and Prof. Nikolay Prodanov, Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Chairman of the National Commission.

“In today’s globalized economy, characterized by complex supply chains, with both materials and labour sourced from all around the world, it is difficult for buyers and consumers, including governments, to be sure that the goods or services they purchase or procure were not produced by trafficked labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 25 million victims of forced labour worldwide”, said H.E. Emma Hopkins.

“Bulgaria has a sustainable national response to trafficking in human beings. The Embassy has partnered with the National Commission for several years on numerous initiatives. Historically, Bulgaria has been a source of victims, but the country also supplies many of the products and raw materials that are an integral part of the international supply chains across Europe - especially in the textile sector, incl. for UK businesses”, she added.

“In continuation of the good and sustainable partnership between the National Commission and the British Embassy in Sofia, we are jointly conducting this forum today. Together, we put on the agenda the role of the public-private cooperation in combating human trafficking”, said Prof. Nikolay Prodanov.

“Bulgaria, as a country affected by this type of organized crime, puts a special focus on counteracting and preventing the crime. Since 2007, our country has implemented annual programs to combat trafficking in human beings and protect the victims. Programs with focus on prevention of the forms of trafficking, incl. labor exploitation, as well as the protection, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims ... In Bulgaria, the deliberate use of services provided by victims of trafficking, including forced labor, is illegal and punishable by law. Criminalization of persons who intentionally use these services is at the core of the European Commission's crime prevention priorities”, he added.

“With today's conference we set high and ambitious goals. I believe that together we will outline future activities and necessary measures that could be taken by all stakeholders - business, government institutions, civil society and trade unions to prevent trafficking in the supply chains”, Prof. Prodanov concluded.

Within the panels focus was put on the impact of human trafficking and forced labour on businesses and on a discussion about adopting different methods for sustainable changes in the development of prevention policies for the crime. Key speakers were Mrs. Nevena Nikolova, Founder of “Nevena Couture”, The Baroness Young of Hornsey OBE,member of the House of Lords, UK Parliament, representatives of Mondelez Bulgaria, The Light Industry Federation (KNSB), ASOS, The Body Shop, International Organization of Migration, Ethical Trading Initiative - Norway, Shiva Foundation, et. al.

The panelists said that mapping and analyzing the most risky sectors is essential in order to take targeted prevention measures - on one hand, informing workers and employees, and on the other, prevention by involving risk groups. Training teams from people working in a given company, to prevent the crime is key to recognizing trafficking and increasing sensitivity to issues related to the crime. Creating transparency in supply chains and codes of conduct and specific indicators for detecting operating situations are essential.

“We are ambassadors, especially among young people, for an ethical fashion and a decent lifestyle in general”, said Nevena Nikolova.

The initiative is on the eve of the European Day for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings – 18th of  October. “This year, under the motto 'Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings', we aim to expand our partners in crime prevention. The business is not yet aware of its key role in counteracting traffic in the supply chains, and it is today's conference that is the first step in this direction”, said Mrs. Kamelia Dimitrova, Secretary of the NCCTHB