Nowadays, when human rights are said to be accepted all over the world, it might seem that slavery is an obsolete form of labor that seized to exist. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that some people are forced into work without proper compensation. Nevertheless, slavery is not a part of human history, it continues thriving in various forms and contexts in modern business, including traditional slavery, bonded labor, human trafficking and forced labor (Quirk, 2006). According to several researches, there are up to 30 million of slaves who are still a part of the global workforce (Bales, 2004; Kara, 2009). What is more, there are incidences of modern slavery on every continent. It is mostly found in subcontinental Asia, West Africa, East Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America but it also takes place in developed countries. That is why addressing this issue is of paramount importance, even the UN has declared that slavery and slavery like practices continue to be among the greatest human rights challenges facing the international community.
The main aim of this paper is to familiarize the reader with the “Modern Slavery as a Management Practice” article by Andrew Crane, which provides the framework for the analysis of the abovementioned issues. Furthermore, this theoretical work will also be supported with the real-life examples of globally known companies that either exploit or combat them. We strongly believe that such information will allow to draw public’s attention to the existence of slavery and will come into play in bringing an end to it.
Andrew Crane’s vision
The article focuses on enterprises directly practicing slavery as part of their routine business. It aims to explain how these organizations manage to 1) exploit particular competitive and institutional conditions that can give rise to slavery, 2) insulate themselves from institutional pressures against slavery, and 3) sustain or shape those conditions that enable slavery to flourish or prevent it from flourishing. In other words, it can be referred to as a “theory of modern slavery”.
First things first, just like with any other theoretical concept it is important to agree upon certain definitions. In case of slavery this is especially important because of its long history and numerous variations that appeared in different civilizations and turned the notion into a constantly-developing and ambiguous concept. The current definition of modern slavery is the following: «Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised» (Allain, 2009). There are four conditions that must be present for an arrangement to be considered an example of modern slavery. So, the so-called slaves are threatened to work; owned or controlled by their employer; dehumanized and treated as a commodity and physically limited or restricted in freedom of movement.
Obviously, both the environment in which a company operates and certain characteristics of the company facilitate the appearance of modern slavery. In Crane’s framework there are conditions enabling slavery, including industry, socioeconomic, geographic, cultural and regulatory contexts, and capabilities of the company that are classified as either exploiting and insulating, or sustaining and shaping. Let us look at them in detail.
Conditions enabling slavery
There are some external factors that have influence on slavery’s likelihood and they can be separated into five groups. We will start with the description of the industry context. According to recent research, agriculture, mining and extraction, construction, and some forms of manufacturing are the fields that suffer from modern slavery. Definitely ‘modern slaves’ are needed in such areas, which are labour-intensive and also lack stable and sufficient supply of workers (Domar, 1970). Slavery practices give an opportunity to minimise main costs, and that is why modern slavery is so popular among primary industries.
Not only business feasibility pushes companies to adopt slavery practices, the next vital factor why modern slavery can occur is a legitimacy of an industry. Slavery is more likely to persist in low-legitimacy industries (such as sex work or domestic work), because enterprises in these industries usually break the law, since the work itself might be prohibited by the legislation.
The second group of conditions consists of socioeconomic context that plays a fundamental role in influencing the supply of slavery. Undoubtedly, poverty forces people into undesirable work. It is acknowledged by the UN that modern slavery in all of its forms is rooted in the fact that millions live in extreme poverty (Rassam, 2004: 844). Moreover, GDP per capita will have a correlation with a percentage of “enslaved” people.
Unemployment is another factor that is almost as important as poverty. Inadequate qualifications among workers and limited job opportunities in the region can have a synergetic effect with poverty. That’s why shady offers from a farm or a mine are the only chance for poor families to get by. In order to fight slavery, it is important to have a decent education and be aware of dangers of bad employment. If these conditions are met, people will be less vulnerable and will be able to avoid making mistakes.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO): “Much forced labor today is in the informal economy, in remote or hidden locations in developing and industrialized countries alike’, this statement has led us to the geographic context. The primary industries, which are plagued by modern slavery, are usually connected to the geographic location due to the fertility of earth or presence of fossils. Furthermore, these locations are often in remote places so that there is a shortage of labour. Also, physical, political, or psychological differences from home affect enslaved employees in such a way that they are controlled, depended and prevented from an escape. As a result, they might become ‘socially a non-person in a marginal state of social death’ (Patterson, 1982:48).
As for cultural context, slavery is most likely to appear where informal institutions do not create obstacles for it. There are various reasons why modern slavery could appear including traditions, inequalities, and religious beliefs. Traditions consist of community norms. Although legal and social changes have brought an end to the acceptance of slavery, there are some regions where these traditions have a profound influence. Slavery can exploit inequalities, such as exploitation or discrimination against women, racial minorities, or children. Religious norms can also justify some forms of slavery.
Last but not least is regulatory context. Strength of the government and power distribution are key factors resulting in incidences of modern slavery. If the government is not effective and, moreover, is corrupted, and country is politically unstable, it is more likely that modern slavery will occur. Furthermore, attention to the issue of modern slavery given by the government plays a vital role in tackling this problem.
Exploiting and insulating capabilities
Having covered the conditions that have a direct impact on modern slavery, it is important to understand that if organizations themselves want to exploit these slavery-supportive conditions, they cannot simply stay passive. Instead, they also need to avoid legal and moralistic pressures and in order to do so, they have to possess certain competences. Andrew Crane calls them ‘slavery management capabilities’. Slavery management capabilities are a set of unique abilities that explains how enterprises successfully deploy slavery as a management practice despite widespread illegality and public opprobrium. According to the author, they can be divided into 2 separate groups. The first one contains exploiting and insulating capabilities, whereas the second refers to the sustaining and shaping ones. Although their names already seem to be self-explanatory, a deeper insight into these notions will be provided.
The exploiting and insulating capabilities represent arcane knowledge of how to control the slavery within one of the existing environments, which were already discussed. One of the integral parts of this group is the access and deployment of violence, which today is even more important than ever. The reason for that is because nowadays legal systems no longer support slavery and it is the only tool of forcing the labour. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that modern slave providers rarely resort to the deployment of violence and it is the access to it that plays the most important role.
The next important capability for slavery using companies is debt management, which in conjunction with accounting opacity allows organisations to quickly inflate the workers’ debts and trap them into forced labour. Another important thing is the debt transferral, which ensures the high liquidity of such debts and allows to use it in order to buy or sell slaves through the slavery supply chain.
To sum up the set of exploiting and insulating capabilities, we have to touch upon the last but definitely not the least important aspect of labour supply chain management. Like the supply chain of any other commodity, this one also consists of several distinct stages, starting from recruitment and trafficking and ending with the deployment. One of its noteworthy characteristics, though, is its illegality, which in its turn involves the cooperation and trust within the supply network. For this reason, for instance, they often can be characterised by ethnic bonds that work as a kind of defense mechanism insulating the supply chain from external pressures.
Sustaining and sharping capabilities
Besides the exploiting capabilities that allow to use existing conditions, slavery organisations also have to develop capabilities that sustain favorable environments and change the unfavorable ones. Andrew Crane identified these as moral legitimization and domain maintenance, which we would like to characterize.
So, according to the author, moral legitimization is the situation where “deploying slavery is at least minimally accepted within the immediate institutional field around the organization, including among non-slave employees, enslaved workers, clients of the organization and local communities.” This situation can be achieved, when rationalization that neutralizes the negative feelings or regrets about their behavior is present. Such practices can be referred as the “denial of victim”- proof that enslaved people deserved it, “social weighting”- alleging that others are guiltier, or “appeal to higher loyalties”-saying that it is what the employer wants. Because of these psychological schemes, the environment could justify and accept slavery, creating the new norms of the field and outline the frames of exploitation.
It goes without saying that slavery organizations are aware of the threat of governance and they need to deal with it. Thus, organizations should be capable not only of managing internal audiences, but also of domain maintenance. Enterprises work out strategies that aim to undermine the law and governance by using informal lobbying, bribery, threats and many others forms of influence. The main goal of these actions is to foster support in the political, social and legal environments. According to Richards (2004), the interdependence between slave operators and law enforcement is fostered, creating a “symbiotic relationship” between corruption and slavery. Unfortunately, this is the key factor of success of slavery companies.