News, University News

Students introduce anti-trafficking act

Student group unBUYnd committed to seeing state take action against modern slavery

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Students from unBUYnd, an anti-human-trafficking advocacy group, drafted the Rhode Island Transparency in Supply Chains Act to restrict corporations from importing goods produced by coerced, trafficked or child labor. The bill was introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly by District 1 Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, and co-introduced by Rep. Moira Walsh, D-Providence, and Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12, D-Providence, Feb. 8.

UnBUYnd started as a small student-based anti-human-trafficking organization in spring 2016 with the mission of taking concrete action to buy out of systems that put profits before people.

“It is intellectually dishonest and morally outrageous that we walk around with clothes made by kids and slaves and we don’t do anything about it,” said Dylan Elliott-Hart ’19, president of unBUYnd.

Though federal law currently prohibits imports that are produced with any kind of slave labor, current legislation is not sufficient, Elliott-Hart said. “The Department of Labor tracks where people are importing goods, and, in the last five years, Rhode Island has imported $10 billion of stuff from countries that were identified as high risk for using child and forced labor,” Elliot-Hart added.

Supply chain transparency will make it easier to enforce current legislation and remove the loopholes in federal law, he added. The motivation for drafting this legislation was to increase transparency and hold “businesses responsible for their supply chains,” Elliot-Hart said, adding that “it gives a chance to people to vote with their money.”

None of the members of unBUYnd had previously drafted legislative documents except Elliot-Hart, who worked at Energize Rhode Island on an environmental campaign last year. Elliot-Hart and fellow member Anna Croley ’19 took the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which went into effect in 2012, as a starting point and then contacted Regunberg, Ajello and Walsh to revise it. Ajello introduced the bill Feb. 8 and referred it to the House Committee on Corporations.

The time and date of the hearing will not be known until 48 hours before, but it will likely occur in the next month, Ajello said, adding that representatives will know if the bill will be voted on by the end of May.

“There has been conversation in Rhode Island about human trafficking — mostly regarding sex trade, not so much for forced labor,” Ajello said. “Because (supply chain transparency) is a new concept, (the bill) is not likely to pass or (be voted on) this year, so it is likely that it will be introduced again next year,” she said. “Almost everything is held for further study. It is routine,” Ajello added.

Democrats are more likely to be in support of this bill than Republicans, Ajello said, adding that she also expects some Democrats to oppose the bill, especially if there is testimony in opposition from business groups or groups that claim to be supportive of businesses.

“I think this is something that should have bipartisan support — this is not a radical idea. If all representatives read the bill, it would pass, but politics isn’t that simple. People in power — people with money — aren’t necessarily in favor of this,” Elliot-Hart said.

Ajello said she thinks this bill will be effective if it becomes law in multiple states. Since Rhode Island is a very small state, companies will simply choose not to do business for such a small market instead of following the regulations, she said. But there aren’t impenetrable walls around states, so if several states adopt this legislation, it will also be effective as consumers become more informed about supply chain decisions, she added.

Creative Director of unBUYnd Zuriel Mbonde ’19 said unBUYnd garnered some support by phone banking and petitioning in Providence. The group hopes to continue its community outreach, contact local press to spread the word and show representatives statewide support for the issue, Mbonde said.

If the bill passes in Rhode Island, unBUYnd’s next step will be to empower student groups in other states to undertake similar initiatives, Elliot-Hart said. Their ultimate aim is to introduce a similar bill at the federal level, he added.

The biggest barrier the group must overcome is apathy, Elliot-Hart said. While many know where the labor that makes their shoes and technology comes from, he added, people “(choose) to live in willful ignorance” because they do not believe they can act against slave labor, he added. “But this is something we can do about it.”