For indentured workers and human-rights advocates across the globe, January 1 was a happy new year, indeed. That’s when a groundbreaking anti-slavery retail and manufacturing law went into effect in California. Although several states already prohibit forced labor and trafficking, the new California Transparency in Supply Chains Act is the first legislation to address the supply chain on an international scale. Its gist: Any Golden State company worth at least $100 million in sales—that includes businesses like Gap and Apple—must disclose on a “conspicuous and easily understood link” on its website if it’s taking measures to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in its supply chain. For businesses that don’t have websites, the disclosures must be provided in writing within 30 days of receiving a written request.

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More than 27 million people in 71 countries are forced to work without pay under the threat of violence or economically exploited without any recourse, according to Slavery Footprint, an anti-slavery campaign funded in part by Google and the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. A majority of those instances involve children.

More than 27 million people worldwide are forced to work without pay under the threat of violence.

When then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law in 2010, he said it would “increase transparency, allow consumers to make better, more informed choices and motivate businesses to ensure humane practices throughout the supply chain.”

But a drive to slash production costs in a lagging economy, along with an increasingly convoluted supply chain that zig-zags across the planet, has made it harder for executives to keep a gimlet eye on every entity with a hand in creating their wares, down to the raw material level.

Cynthia Jackson, a partner at in the San Francisco office of Baker & McKenzie, which has been advising clients on the new law, advises companies to be careful what they claim they are doing in their disclosure statements. One of the most common mistakes companies make is to “post a website policy without the underlying protocols to support it,” she tells the San Francisco Chronicle. In other words, she warns businesses, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. “Corporate social responsibility has moved beyond market fluff to a core function with legal implications,” she adds.

[Via the San Francisco Chronicle]