Risk Management

Stopping Supply Chain Slavery

Governments are cracking down on the use of slave labor in supply chains. Companies risk their reputations if they don’t find the practice on their own and end it.
By: | October 1, 2016 • 7 min read

Modern day slavery is alive and well.

And with large food companies such as Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill under legal fire for selling products that were allegedly made in part by slave labor (often unpaid child labor), it’s critical that all companies know the score throughout their ever-expanding global supply chains.

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In the latest example of the U.S. government attempting to stop — or at least greatly reduce — modern slavery, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized low-calorie sweetener stevia imported from China by PureCircle Ltd. The plant extract is used to sweeten Coca-Cola Life, Pepsi True and other soft drinks. The U.S. alleged that PureCircle sourced the Stevia rebaudiana plant (from which the sweetener is extracted) from a company accused of using forced labor, Reuters reported in early June.

It’s the third time the U.S. has cracked down using a new law that bans imports of products made by forced labor. The importer had three months to prove its innocence, according to Reuters.

There is growing pressure on risk managers to have a much more focused approach to supply chain management, said Andrew Boutros, a former U.S. attorney and partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw.

“It really comes down to compliance professionals making judgment calls,” he said. “Compliance often is viewed as a cost center, so companies spend their dollars on the highest litigation risks. But as these new statutes become more enforced, there will be more attention paid to them.”

“It’s very hard to verify with confidence that [a product component] … made its way to the U.S. without slavery, corruption, bribery, falsification, etc.,”  – Andrew Boutros, partner, Seyfarth Shaw

Boutros said determining if there is a slave labor component in the supply chain is more often than not an incredibly complex endeavor.

Andrew Boutros, partner, Seyfarth Shaw

Andrew Boutros, partner, Seyfarth Shaw

“Imagine being able to know with a high degree of confidence if the beans in your coffee were collected using forced labor,” he said. “And that’s just coffee. What about parts in computers or tech gadgets? Or minerals and certain metals? Or the fishing industry?

“It’s very hard to verify with confidence that it made its way to the U.S. without slavery, corruption, bribery, falsification, etc.,” he said.

The scope of modern day slavery is devastating.

According to the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index 2016, there are about 45.8 million people working as slaves globally, with 58 percent in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. That number includes sex trafficking, which would not be part of supply chain data.

For example, as of 2014, the United Nations estimated 21 million slave labor victims worldwide. Also, a 2014 report from the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that $150 billion in illegal profits are made in the private economy each year through modern slavery.

Modern slavery and forced labor is not as openly or frequently mitigated as other regulatory supply chain risks — such as foreign corrupt practices or conflict minerals, according to Kris Hutton, head of product management at ACL, a Vancouver, B.C.-based global compliance and audit software firm and consultancy.

“Slavery is a much more diverse, complex issue to govern, monitor, detect and regulate.”  — Kris Hutton, head of product management, ACL

And that’s a primary reason why major Western nations like the U.S. and the United Kingdom only recently enacted anti-slavery legislation (2015 in the U.S.), unlike the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enacted in 1977.

“Based on maturity of legislation alone, jurisdictional regulators, such as the Department of Justice in the U.S., are far more likely to issue punitive fines against abuses of FCPA and Dodd Frank than those of anti-slavery regulations,” Hutton said.

Kris Hutton, head of product management, ACL

Kris Hutton, head of product management, ACL

This focus will change in the future, due to pressure from external social forces — such as consumer protests.

Modern slavery is also much more difficult to detect compared to other crimes, he said.

Corruption involving an electronic trail of payment or expense, for example, can be monitored by the organization and the regulator. Modern slavery, however, has to do with the conditions surrounding the workforce, which often rely more on qualitative evidence such as interviews and observation than documentation.

“Slavery is a much more diverse, complex issue to govern, monitor, detect and regulate,” Hutton said.

Finally, modern slavery carries a more serious social stigma compared to either corruption or conflict minerals.  Many companies look the other way to avoid having to act on the knowledge.

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Hutton expects this will start to change with more social awareness and increased regulatory enforcement; one thing that will drive organizational behavior is a combination of monetary and reputational damage that influences consumers and investors.

“Companies are responsible not only for their own integrity and ethics, but also for acts of their third-party suppliers,” said Scott Lane, CEO at The Red Flag Group, an independent corporate governance and compliance firm in Tempe, Ariz.

“A company that uses suppliers engaged in actions such as forced migrant or child labor, or human trafficking, could sustain significant fines and reputational damage,” he said.

Lane cited the example of Nestlé, which revealed late last year that poor workers from developing countries such as Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia often ended up trapped in illegal and brutal working conditions as part of the company’s supply chain.

“A company that uses suppliers engaged in actions such as forced migrant or child labor, or human trafficking, could sustain significant fines and reputational damage.”  — Scott Lane, CEO, The Red Flag Group

He added that modern laws place an obligation on companies to assess whether or not it is happening, or could happen, in their supply chain. And if the answer is yes, is it being taken care of?

Finally, they need to report how they are doing in that process.

Scott Lane, CEO, The Red Flag Group

Scott Lane, CEO, The Red Flag Group

“These laws are creating an obligation on companies to do these things,” Lane said. “It’s less about the risk of fines and litigation and more about the reputational damage to the extent you don’t do anything once you find it.”

“It’s safe to say there is not a single company in the world within the Fortune 1000 that knowingly wants to violate these laws,” says Jeff Hunter, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. risk assurance services practice.

“With the expansiveness of today’s supply chain, there are much deeper ways to monitor and surveil third-party suppliers,” he said. “In the past, there was word of mouth, trust and the transparency of how they did business before. But that is changing, and the lead companies will have to look deeper into their supply chains.”

Some proactive steps

There are three critical areas that need to be addressed within organizations looking to reduce supply chain risks connected with slave labor, ACL’s Hutton said.

First, organizational leadership and the board need to make it part of their corporate mandate and be committed to educating, training and building awareness.

“One concrete way this is done is by including anti-slavery culture into the Code of Conduct — create policy and training for procurement professionals and enforce it,” he said.

Next is including prevention and detection controls in the supply chain vetting process, not just internally using vendor pre-approval, but by extending the obligations and awareness of the anti-slavery mandate to all vendors.

“Insist on supply chain traceability,” he said. “Make the key indicators of slavery highly visible — age and mobility of the workforce, fair wages (absent of fees or indentures) and working hours, and humane treatment to name a few.”

Point-scoring systems can be created where certain criteria would raise a red flag — such as vendors located in known conflict regions.

Finally, invest in auditing, monitoring and/or investigative measures — hold procurement and risk professionals accountable internally and hold vendors equally accountable.

Provide a whistleblower hotline so grievances can be reported.

As for data, Hutton said, the best angle is to create preventive controls that use a scoring model to indicate a higher risk for slavery. For instance, when a procurement professional wants to buy from a new vendor, the vendor has to be approved.

“If it is in a region that is in an emerging market or is a conflict region, the score should reflect that higher risk,” he said.

It’s still too early to tell if the new laws will have a positive impact on reducing the world’s slave labor market, Hutton said.

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On the one hand, there is much more social awareness and pressure for ethically and socially responsible corporate behavior.

On the other, the global supply chain is complex and it’s not an easy problem to solve by just running a data analytic monitoring program.
“It’s going to take time and it’s going to take pressure from regulators with punitive enforcement around the globe,” he said. “From that perspective, it’s early in the transformation to socially responsible outsourcing and procurement.”

According to Seyfarth Shaw’s Boutros, risk managers should always look for one key indicator when it comes to supply chain purchasing.

“If the price is too good to be true, there probably is a reason for it,” he said. “It’s not necessarily always a red flag, but it certainly needs to be investigated.” &

Tom Starner is a freelance business writer and editor. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]