The IOM’s recent Remediation Guidelines for Victims of Human Trafficking in Mineral Supply Chains should encourage business to both prevent and remedy human-rights abuses in their supply chains.

In May 2018, the UN migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), published its Remediation Guidelines for Victims of Human Trafficking in Mineral Supply Chains. Global Initiative senior analysts Livia Wagner and Marcena Hunter contributed knowledge and gave inputs into the development of the document.

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is a complex global phenomenon, with supply chains often involving an array of actors working in multiple sites, and products and workers crossing international borders. This inherent complexity is compounded by the disparate ways in which the ASM sector impacts communities and society. While ASM may provide a livelihood for millions worldwide, playing an important role in poverty alleviation and economic development, it is also linked to devastating impacts on the environment, health and human rights. The informal and unregulated nature of the sector also makes it vulnerable to criminal infiltration and illicit financial flows. These complex dynamics have been investigated and analyzed by the Global Initiative in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The IOM guidelines were published against this backdrop – a context in which multinational corporations that source minerals as inputs are facing increasing pressure to ensure human and labour rights are respected in mineral supply chains. In particular, reports of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in mining areas, forced labour and worst forms of child labour have raised serious concerns for downstream companies about the social cost of doing business with the ASM sector. As documented by RESPECT – a joint initiative of the Global Initiative, Babson College’s Initiative on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and the IOM – the private sector is being held to account for human-rights violations in supply chains in an unprecedented manner.

However, while corporations would clearly not want to be associated with human-rights abuses in their mineral purchasing practices, moves to eradicate ASM products from their supply chains could backfire, with a detrimental impact on development, and precipitate the sector further into the clutches of illicit actors.


Prevention and cure both needed

Industry action on forward-looking responsibility has advanced a great deal in recent years, with significant investments made in due-diligence programmes. The OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas has been especially instrumental here. The document’s recommendations help private actors to source mineral inputs from ASM supply chains while reducing the risk of contributing (albeit indirectly and unintentionally) to human-rights violations. However, such industry-specific guidelines tend to focus on human and labour rights in general, but do not address the specific risk of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. The informal mining sector is particularly vulnerable to these forms of violations.

Also, the backward-looking responsibility of businesses to address human-rights abuses when they do occur has not received enough attention. As articulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), businesses not only have a responsibility to prevent human-rights abuses, but also to provide remedies to victims where harm has occurred. Specifically, although there is evidence of human trafficking in certain ASM supply chains, and companies recognize their responsibility to provide remedies, current industry responses have tended to lack targeted action plans to provide protection and remediation to victims of human trafficking.

Hence, to support businesses that are committed to fulfilling their responsibilities under the UNGPs, the IOM developed its remediation guidelines for downstream companies and their business partners. The guidelines go beyond due diligence, providing concrete, operational guidance on how to take incidents forward when victims have been identified in the supply chain. The guidelines are not prescriptive, but rather designed to serve as guidance for entities on how to implement remediation processes. Their aim is to highlight best practices for companies to consider and replicate in an effort to advance remediation in their own operations and supply chains.

At their heart are remediation processes that downstream companies can follow when a victim has suffered harm linked to the company’s operations, products or services. The guidelines outline the roles and responsibilities of key actors, and appropriate action to be taken. They also illustrate the options that actors have at various stages in the process, helping them identify the different elements that need to be taken into account when making decisions. Ultimately, the operational remediation process helps downstream companies and their business partners identify the steps to follow, the stakeholders to engage with and the various factors to consider, so that victims are provided with an effective remedy.

While these guidelines focus on human trafficking, much of the content is also applicable to other exploitative practices, including the worst forms of child labour, forced labour, debt bondage, commercial sexual exploitation and contemporary forms of slavery. Collectively often referred to as ‘modern slavery’, these terms have various legal definitions but often share common elements, essentially describing situations of exploitation from which a victim cannot easily walk away. The process and principles below could also be applied to other sectors, such as the garment industry, agriculture or construction.

Although responding to criminal threats in the ASM sector is a complex and daunting task, it does not exculpate corporations from their responsibility to not only prevent human-rights abuses, but to also provide fitting protection and remedies when they do occur. The IOM guidance is therefore a valuable and much needed tool to assist corporations in taking responsibility for their supply chains by helping them look backwards, as well as forward.