One of the more important developments on the human rights front over the last two decades is the rise of the corporate social responsibility movement, currently known under the unwieldy politically-correct rubric of “creating shared value (CSV)" and "inclusive business models.” The movement triggered corresponding efforts on the part of Fortune 500 firms to develop internal audit systems against various human rights violations, particularly in their own workplaces and among suppliers. As both multilateral and national efforts have expanded, companies have turned to compliance firms to assist their efforts.

Verik Maplecroft is just such a firm, and one of its specialties is slavery. A number of cases have brought the issue to the fore in recent years, most notably the infamous Thai shrimp case. Countries responded. For example, Britain’s Modern Slavery Act (2015) requires large UK and international companies to disclose efforts to remove slavery from their global supply chains; threads at the Business and Human Rights Resource Center track some of the debate on the legislation, although in 2016 it did generate its first arrest and prosecution.

Partly as a loss leader, partly as a way of measuring risk in a systematic way, Verik Maplecroft has developed a Modern Slavery Index. The underlying report appears to be available only to clients, and thus the methodology is not clear. It purports to be based on “analysing the breadth of national legislation; the quality of law enforcement; and reported evidence of trafficking, forced labour, servitude and slavery.”

You guessed it: according to a Reuters report with direct access to the data, North Korea tops the list followed most immediately by war-torn countries such as the Sudan and South Sudan, the DRC, and Syria. Countries such as China and India also exhibit “extreme risk” of the use of slaves in the supply chain and even European countries are not immune because of trafficking within the EU. If you think this is not a problem, just scan the content that Verik Maplecroft has up.

My colleague Marc Noland has worked on labor rights issues on this blog (see below), in part because the issue also has wider implications both for sanctions and for the country’s economic strategy. In fact, a few months back Marc mentioned a separate slavery ranking, the Global Slavery Index, where North Korea also took worst place honors. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have isolated the country from the rest of the world, despite contradictory efforts to secure foreign investment. With press like this, investors outside jurisdictions such as China are unlikely to look twice at the country as either a production location or supplier. A second front with respect to this issue: assuring that North Korean slave labor is not exported abroad (again, link to some recent posts on this).

A few recent posts on North Korea's export of labor:

“The Organized Export of Labor” – June 28, 2016

“North Korean Forced Labor in the EU” – June 9, 2016

“HRNK’s Gulag Inc.: The Use of Forced Labor in North Korea’s Export Industries” – May 27, 2016

“Sanctions update” – February 1, 2016

“Overseas North Korean labor: Slowly tightening the noose on exploitative practices?” – November 9, 2015

“The Exportation and Exploitation of North Korean Labor” – June 30, 2015

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