HTS: Companies with No Code of Conduct

Question: When surveying suppliers for human trafficking and slavery compliance information for a company’s Code of Conduct (CoC), some smaller suppliers respond that they do not have written policies because they follow the laws of the countries they operate in. What is the best way to handle this? Does it matter if they are located in a lower-risk country?

Answer: For guidance in this situation, I suggest you refer to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The principles are clear that the responsibility to respect human rights (as covered by your CoC) applies fully and equally to all businesses, regardless of size and location. They also state that businesses should have policies and processes in place to respect human rights.

While the principles do acknowledge that these policies and processes should be appropriate to the business’ size, the core fact that a business should have them in place does not change.

A few other points to consider:

  • In many parts of the world, the provisions within your CoC are unlikely to be met by compliance with local law alone.
  • There are many parts of the world where local law is not enforced in practice. Without enforcement, the presence of law carries little weight.
  • Respect for human rights is not more or less difficult for smaller businesses than larger ones; instead, it is difficult in some ways and simpler in others. With committed leadership and fewer staff, for instance, it can be easier for a small business to align relevant functions than it would be for a larger company.

Article is current as of 2020-04-03.

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