ATHENS - Athens is aiming to ensure that all the goods and services the local government provides to its residents are free of forced labor, under a pilot project launched on Wednesday that officials and activists hope will set an example across Greece.
The Athens municipality plans to create a level playing field for its suppliers by working solely with companies that monitor their supply chains and take action to prevent modern slavery, several officials told an anti-trafficking conference.
As the world strives to meet a U.N. goal of ending slavery and forced labor by 2030, major companies face growing scrutiny and consumer pressure to guarantee their goods are slave-free.
Yet governments have unparalleled bargaining power to change the business practices of their suppliers and contractors, not just at home but worldwide because of the increasingly global and complex nature of supply chains, experts said at the conference.
"By using the financial power of a city like Athens ... there is pressure and leverage in order to change the situation in the labor market, and make the public procurement process fairer," said Lefteris Papagiannakis, a vice mayor of Athens.
While public procurement often focuses on environmental issues, the pilot project is an opportunity to bring human trafficking in government supply chains to the fore, he added.
The scheme will first research and map Athens' supply chains, then look to design due diligence tools and monitoring systems, according to Fiori Zafeiropoulou, who is leading the project.
Companies in the dark
Many Greek companies interviewed by officials recently were unaware of how child or forced labor could be part of their supply chains, and would need help to monitor their operations and act if they were to find such cases, Zafeiropoulou said.
"We want to create a zero-tolerance environment ... and a level playing field to ensure all businesses play by the same rules with no unfair advantage for those exploiting victims of trafficking," Zafeiropoulou said after announcing the plan.
However, Athens has no dedicated funding for the project and will need to raise cash soon to go beyond just research and mapping, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
If successful, the plan could be extended to other cities in Greece, government ministries and the private sector, and influence other European governments, said Korina Hatzinikolaou, an expert adviser at the national anti-human trafficking office.
Every year, authorities across the European Union spend about 14 percent of their gross domestic product — at least 1.9 trillion euros ($2.2 trillion) — on public procurement, according to data from the European Commission.
In Greece, an estimated 89,000 people are modern-day slaves — about one in 125 of its 11 million population — according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation.
Greece was a front-line country for refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria and elsewhere until 2016, and thousands of adult and child migrants are at risk of exploitation by traffickers for sex and labor, experts say.