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Blog: Decision-making in a Context of Uncertainty – Why Investors Should Look at Forced Labor in Their Portfolios

Blog published originally in Cornerstone Capital Group's Journal for Sustainable Finance & Banking on 27 July 2016 by Felicitas Weber, KnowTheChain Project Lead, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Forced labor is a risk that can affect shareholders drastically, in light of increasing regulation, litigation, media and consumer attention.  Take the case of Signal International, a US marine-services company, which went bankrupt following compensation payments to victims of forced labor –leading to a US$70 million loss for two Alabama public pension funds that held shares in the company.[1]

Reputational risks of forced labor are particularly high in the supply chains of consumer-facing companies.  In Malaysia, for example, nearly a quarter of workers employed in the production of electronic goods are working under conditions of forced labor[2].  Non consumer-facing companies may still come under scrutiny as business partners of consumer-facing companies.  In May this year, US Customs and Border Protection seized imports from PureCircle, a Malaysia-based supplier of sweeteners to companies such as Coca Cola, under a new law banning imports of products produced with forced labor.  News of the seizure reduced PureCircle’s market value by almost US$100 million, and forced Coca Cola to respond to the issue.[3]

The US Customs legislation is just the latest in a growing number of regulations on this issue.  As many as 62% of companies in the MSCI ACWI Index will be subject to the UK Modern Slavery Act, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, or the proposed Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act in the US.[4]...

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