What do ink and toner cartridges have to do with Chinese forced human labor and child sex trafficking?

Published on
August 2, 2023 at 3:00:00 PM PDT August 2, 2023 at 3:00:00 PM PDTnd, August 2, 2023 at 3:00:00 PM PDT

As global front-runners - we, American businesses - bear a profound responsibility - no, a duty - to sever ties with nations that endorse forced labor practices, because let's face it....countries, entities, and persons engaging in forced labor practices are also intimately linked to the abhorrent crimes of human trafficking and child exploitation. Our economic prowess should never be wielded as a tool to bolster regimes that perpetuate such gross violations of human rights. Instead, our influence should be channeled towards promoting safe and equitable working conditions worldwide, underscoring our commitment to universal human dignity and freedom.

While many enterprise level companies have committed to ethical sourcing practices and have developed effective transparency protocols in within their global supply chain....collectively we should be doing more. Businesses with nonexistent or immature social compliance policies need to adopt strict regulation of labor conditions, auditing procedures, and commitments from suppliers to comply with international standards.

If you're not sure where to start, collaborating with other corporations and business associations in order to ensure that all possible measures are taken to eradicate exploitation within the industry is a good first step. There are even organizations that help corporations get started on their ESG, DE&I and social compliance journey.

One person who has been a crusader in the efforts to end human trafficking and child exploitation within supply chain is Justin Dillon, who is the CEO and Founder of Made in a Free World…a community of businesses, governments, and citizens all focused on ending forced and child labor, and has reached over 30 million consumers worldwide and played a supportive role in developing legislation around forced labor in supply chains. Justin is also the CEO and Founder of FRDM (pronounced free•dom), and they deliver enterprise-grade SAAS that’s transforming how businesses manage risk (like child labor) in their supply chain. FRDM helps their customers protect their values throughout their entire supplier network. FRDM customers are primarily Fortune 500 companies, but also include SMBs, investment funds, governments, NGOs, and academic institutions. They also help companies comply with regulations and build brand loyalty with their customers, and FRDM products are also embedded into procurement products of large ERP companies like SAP. FRDM is building the world we want by helping their customers BUY BETTER. Justin also wrote a book called “A Selfish Plan to Change the World: Finding Big Purpose in Big Problems”….if you haven’t read it yet, you should!

Another company helping corporations with their perceived reputation, is RepTrak who through use of a combination of machine learning (ML), AI, and natural language processing (NLP), their reputation intelligence platform combines and analyzes millions of perception and sentiment data points from online surveys, mainstream media, social media, business data, and additional third party sources. They believe that reputation is dynamic in nature and is why they measure it so thoroughly. RepTrak’s reputation wheelhouse expands beyond just one score — measuring how people feel, think, and act towards companies globally. Combined with Industry Benchmarks, Branding, and other initiatives like ESG and DE&I, their reputation measurement system gives customers the intricate details behind why reputation overall is down in 2023, and how the most reputable companies fared across different reputational elements. To get a copy of their 2023 Global RepTrak 100 - a list of the top 100 companies they’ve rated, send me a DM and I will send you the PDF.

If your organization does have a more mature social strategy in place, take a moment to review your direct and indirect goods you are sourcing and find out if there is still room for improvement. For example, typically #indirectspend (and #tailspend within it) are viewed as “low hanging fruit” by #procurementprofessionals. But that’s the thing about “low hanging fruit’, is that its very existence should be an easy change to make when it comes to #costsavings, #sustainability, #supplierdiversity and in cases now…..choosing to NOT do business with suppliers tied to human trafficking and child exploitation. Even if your office supply spend - even more narrowly, your printer toner spend - is by all accounts “low” (under $5M annually) compared to other larger categories…a decision to keep things status quo is what you’re actively choosing, even though it deserves change. Whatever you are not changing....you are choosing....and lack of awareness is no longer an excuse. ALL spend with companies engaging or complicit with forced labor, human trafficking and child exploitation IS TOO MUCH. Even $1 is too much to spend, as it comes at the expense of vulnerable people and children.

We must remember that it is our responsibility to engage in ethical business practices and hold ourselves, as well-informed global citizens, accountable for the state of modern labor conditions. By establishing an ethical stance on #corporatesocialresponsibility within our industry, we can protect laborers from exploitation and set a new standard for businesses around the world. #NoMoreForcedLabor

The Importance of Social Compliance in our Global Supply Chain

In the context of global commerce, social compliance holds paramount importance, particularly in supply chain management. This pertains to meeting set standards for fair and humane treatment of labor within the supply chain, including appropriate compensation, humane working hours, and safe working conditions. Non-compliance, apart from being a gross violation of human rights, can tarnish a corporation’s reputation, resulting in loss of customer trust and market share. Conversely, businesses that prioritize social compliance are likely to experience increased customer loyalty and enhanced brand image. Thus, dedication to social compliance within the supply chain is not just a moral imperative, but also a strategic business decision that can secure long-term success. If you're capable of doing more......why aren't you?

By now, most people around the world has heard - or even watched already in theaters - the movie "Sound of Freedom". It's based on a "true story of depicts the remarkable journey of Tim Ballard, a former Homeland Security agent, as he battles against human trafficking. His relentless pursuit of justice exposes the dark underbelly of this global crime, leaving an indelible impact on the fight for freedom."

Indeed, forced labor, human trafficking, and child exploitation are uncomfortable subjects that many prefer to avoid. The harsh realities of these heinous crimes often make us cringe, and the vastness of their global prevalence can leave us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Yet, it is precisely this discomfort that we must confront. The victims of these crimes live in constant fear and suffering, deprived of basic human rights and dignity. Ignoring this harsh reality does not make it go away - it only perpetuates the cycle of abuse. We must have the courage to bring these issues into the open, to discuss them, to educate others, and to take definitive action to end these inhumane practices. The first step towards solving a problem is acknowledging its existence, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. And when it comes to supply chain management, this is an area businesses can focus on that can create dramatic and lasting change.

Reputation vs. Integrity.

These horrific practices aren't new...they've been around for thousands of years but as technology and the speed of information improved, more and more of it is coming to light. You may recall the 2014 documentary "The High Cost of Low Prices", which shined a light on the then-shady business practices of Walmart, and how in the 80s and 90s they were one of the leading drivers of US manufacturing of goods being moved out of the USA and over to China....where these atrocious forced labor practices thrived....all to make a buck.

It's also been in the news for years now, how more and more Chinese companies and US corporations with factories in a range of supply chains including electronics, textiles, and automotives under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’. The report identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that are using Uyghur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017, as reported by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. In 2020, they published a report implicating 83 major brands of forced labor practices of ethnic minorities from Xinjiang who were taken and assigned to these factories. Most of these brands responded....sadly many of the largest brands did not and it shows a clear lack of integrity.

One of the most important character traits we as humans can possess, is moral integrity. Integrity is what you do when no one is watching. It’s doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage. Integrity is keeping your word. It’s an internal compass, a rudder that directs you where you know you should go when everything around you is pulling you in a different direction.

The same can be applied to business practices. Whatever you are not changing....you are choosing....and lack of awareness is no longer an excuse. Some people think reputation is the same as integrity, but they are two different things. Your reputation is the public perception of your integrity. This is why companies usually develop ESG, DE&I and Supplier Diversity policies as they realize their perceived reputation is directly linked profits. For some of these companies however, these policies are just a sound byte....something that makes their consumers, investors and internal stakeholders "feel good" but no real lasting change occurs. Others determine your reputation, but only you determine your integrity.

No More. We have HAD IT.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was enacted on December 23, 2021, to strengthen the existing prohibition against the importation of goods made wholly or in part with forced labor into the United States and to end the systematic use of forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Among its mandates, the UFLPA charged the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, chaired by DHS, to develop a strategy for supporting the enforcement of Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. § 1307) to prevent the importation into the United States of goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part with forced labor in the People’s Republic of China.

FLETF is a DHS-led Task Force of inter-agency partners that are dedicated to monitoring the enforcement of the prohibition on importing goods made wholly or in part with forced labor into the United States. Forced labor includes the use of forced, convict, and indentured labor, including forced or indentured child labor. You can understand more about forced labor and customs authorities that prohibit goods made with forced labor in U.S. supply chains by visiting CBP.gov.

In June 2022, the UFLPA published a list of entities in Xinjiang that mine, produce, or manufacture wholly or in part any goods, wares, articles and merchandise with forced labor, called the UFLPA Entity List. On June 12th, 2023, almost one year later and after detaining and denying entry of more than $1.3B worth of products at the US Border, that list was updated to include two more company entities and eight subsidiaries to the ULFPA Entity List...one of whom is a major manufacturer of illegally cloned Chinese compatible printer cartridge supplies....that company, is called Ninestar.

On July 31st 2023, the International Imaging Technology Council posted and update to the recent UFLPA Entity List. "It is disheartening to learn that these products continue to be sold under different brand names without any repercussions, particularly on e-commerce sites like Amazon. Ninestar is the third largest printer and printer cartridge manufacturer in the world, and trades under dozens of brand names. By allowing such sales to persist, buyers are supporting an industry that profits from modern-day slavery, supporting competitive advantage over North American-made, environmentally-friendly, high quality remanufactured cartridges. While painful for some, the reality of the situation is quite straightforward – suppliers who knowingly sell newly imported Ninestar products are subjecting themselves to civil and criminal liability under Title 18 of U.S. Criminal Law (jump to 51:20 of this interview where Eric Choy, the Executive Director of Trade Remedy Law Enforcement for U.S. CBP, confirms that U.S. entities can be held civilly and criminally liable for UFLPA violations)."

Forced labor is an egregious violation of human rights, inflicting undue suffering and dehumanizing those trapped within its grip. Workers subjected to these conditions face an array of atrocities, from physical abuse to restricted movement, all under the shadow of unrelenting exploitation. Many labor in hazardous environments for little to no pay, their hopes stifled and their dignity eroded. As procurement and supply chain professionals - and consumers ourselves - we bear an inherent moral responsibility. Every purchase we make sends a message about the kind of world we choose to live in. Thus, we must be vigilant, discerning, and proactive. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that our purchases do not, even indirectly, perpetuate these atrocities. We must strive for a world where human rights are universally respected, where dignity prevails over profit, and where ethical business practices are not the exception, but the standard.

Quality Imaging Solutions. Your solution for ethically-sourced, high quality sustainable remanufactured printer cartridge supplies and hardware.

At Quality Imaging Solutions, we deeply value and invest in our strategic partnerships, knowing the myriad of benefits such collaboration can yield. We are committed to fostering relationships that drive not only our success but that of our business partners and our customers as well. Our cooperative efforts extend beyond mere transactions, focusing on shared goals, mutual growth, and long-term value creation driving integrity over reputation.

We can all do our part to eradicate forced labor and child exploitation from the supply chain. Together, we have the power to create a world where any form of human trafficking is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Let's use our collective conscience to stand up for what is right and become champions of ethical business practices worldwide.

This is why we need to look at our own direct and indirect goods we are sourcing - from the seemingly more impactful, more talked-about categories - to the more overlooked categories within tail spend, like your printer cartridge purchases. As it is even within these seemingly "less important" spend categories that you can have a substantial impact on the quality of life of another human being.

It starts with you. What are you doing to ensure no forced labor or child exploitation takes place in your supply chain? How can you be part of the solution and create a better future for everyone? Let's start today, as whatever you are not changing....you are choosing....and lack of awareness is no longer an excuse.

To find out more about how we operate and the unique advantages we can offer, we encourage you to reach out and explore the many possibilities. Please feel free to contact us today, and let's unlock the potential of strategic partnerships together!