NEW YORK, Sept. 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Top leaders of business are uniquely positioned to combat modern slavery by embedding efforts to eradicate forced labor in their business strategy and culture from top to bottom, the head of consumer goods giant Unilever NV said on Tuesday.

Chief executives can set policies and enforce consequences in their own companies and those of their suppliers and partners, said Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive, on the sidelines of world leaders meeting at the United Nations.

More than 40 million people are estimated to be trapped as slaves in forced labor and forced marriages, most of them women and girls, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other anti-slavery groups.

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Nearly 25 million work in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats and as domestic or sex workers, according to the ILO.

"CEOs have a responsibility to lead the charge against the modern slave trade, forced labor, and to end this once and for all," Polman said.

"We are uniquely positioned to take action against the crimes modern slavery encompasses."

Polman spoke at the launch of a guide designed for CEOs to fight modern slavery designed by The B Team, a nonprofit group that works on social, environmental, and economic issues.

Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch company, produces personal and home care products and prepared foods with such well-known brands as Dove and Lipton.

Read More: UK Steps up Fight to End Modern Slavery

Polman said chief executives can set the tone in their decisions and in their business models and address topics such as wages, workers' rights and recruitment tactics.

Chief executives must ask themselves, "Is the way I am doing business reducing or sustaining poverty? Reducing or increasing the likelihood of forced labor?" he said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit


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CEOs Have Unique Power to Lead Anti-Slavery Fight, Business Leader Says