Looking down a tunnel in a mine

Economic growth has been booming in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, driven largely by expanding natural resource exploitation, particularly in the oil, gas and other extractive sectors, as well as in agricultural production, fisheries, and forestry. According to the African Development Bank, Africa has over 120 billion barrels of oil reserves and over half of the world’s uncultivated arable land. Many countries in the region now rely on natural resource exports for the principal portion of their GDP, and others are poised to do so in the near future. Foreign direct investment to the region has skyrocketed, much of it coming from China, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner, but investment from many other countries has been steadily increasing as well. In addition, more and more African workers are seeking economic opportunities outside of the region, migrating to the Gulf States, Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere overseas, in the hopes of saving money to remit to impoverished relatives at home.

The long-term consequences for African people of the region’s intensifying integration into the global economy as a supplier of raw materials and labor remain to be seen, but the initial signs are not reassuring. Headlines are filled with stories of people displaced by internationally capitalized mines and large-scale agricultural ventures, of women and children forced to work as sexual slaves or as laborers in hazardous conditions in mines or on fishing boats, and of desperate migrants risking their lives in unsafe boats or being abused by foreign employers in jobs they didn’t agree to and can’t escape.

With funding from the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (Grant# S-SJTIP-14-GR-1042), and in partnership with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative and Solidarity Center, Verité will be leading an ambitious two-year research project to map out the scale and distribution of global economic engagement across the sub-Saharan Africa region. The project will focus on assessing the patterns and risks of human trafficking and forced labor associated with global supply chains in sub-Saharan Africa, and on identifying best practices that companies and governments can employ to prevent trafficking and other associated human rights abuses in these contexts. Research for the project will center on exploring and identifying correlations between specific global industries and risks for human trafficking, as well as analyzing the legal and policy frameworks in which global supply chains operate in sub-Saharan Africa, and in which trafficking takes place and/or is prevented and prosecuted. In addition, the project will evaluate a range of corporate and industry practices that either enable or help mitigate the risk of trafficking with African supply chains.

This new African supply chain initiative builds upon Verité’s years of experience researching and working to promote fair labor in the region in industries such as cocoa, cotton, tobacco, and gold production, and will represent an important, regional supplement to our recent work on global supply chains in support of federal contractors and other businesses, as well as government contracting officials, as they comply with Executive Order 13627 on Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts. Insights gained in the course of the sub-Saharan Africa project will be made available to the public through a variety of dynamic and accessible online resources, allowing for exploration of specific industries and supply chains by country, commodity, issue, and other relevant variables.

Our hope is that companies and governments will ultimately use these tools to ensure that they are doing all they can to ensure that no harm comes to African people from international economic investment in the region, and that investment instead contributes to improved livelihoods and responsible development.
For more information, contact Liz Garland.

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