Racial tensions continue to run high in America despite advances in civil rights legislation and enlightened court rulings. Conservatives accuse liberal extremists of pushing a toxic Critical Race Theory while liberals accuse conservative extremists of pushing an even more toxic Replacement Theory. These battling ideologies have made teaching history a dangerous endeavor in some school systems. History has always been a somewhat subjective topic. We’re all familiar with the phrase “history is written by the victors.” Today, that phrase could be amended to read “history is written by those controlling national media.”
I like another phrase that was popularized in an 1897 poem by Rudyard Kipling called “Recessional”. The phrase is “Lest we forget.” Wikipedia notes, “The phrase occurs eight times; and is repeated at the end of the first four stanzas in order to add particular emphasis regarding the dangers of failing to remember.” Although that phrase is most-often attached to remembering military personnel who died during conflicts, it is equally appropriate for reminding us that forgetting darker times in our history can be dangerous. Juneteenth is a federal holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in America. It should also remind us that, in some areas of the world, humans are still considered chattel.
The History of Juneteenth
Juneteenth National Independence Day (aka Juneteenth) is a U.S. federal holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday 17 June 2021. Prior to being designated a federal holiday, it was also variously called Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day. The holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, which occurred nearly two-years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains, “In 1863, during the American Civil War, Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. More than two years would pass, however, before the news reached African Americans living in Texas. It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.”
Although the African-American community has celebrated Juneteenth for decades, it wasn’t until 1980 that it received official government sanction. Ironically, it was Texas, the last state to free slaves, that was the first state to recognize the holiday. In 1979, state Representative Al Edwards (D), a veteran civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., introduced legislation recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday. It passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Governor Bill Clements (R) in 1980. Journalist Reid Wilson reports, “Florida adopted a Juneteenth holiday in 1991, Oklahoma in 1994 and Minnesota in 1996. Thirty-one states adopted the holiday between 2000 and 2009, and another 13 did so in the decade that followed.”
Modern Slavery in the Supply Chain
It would wonderful if, sometime in the future, we could celebrate a day like Juneteenth commemorating the end of slavery everywhere in the world. Unfortunately, one of the dark secrets of many supply chains is that they rely on slave labor. Kelly Barner (@BuyersMeetPoint), owner and managing director of Buyers Meeting Point, explains, “When a company decides to address the risks that lurk within its supply chain, the most natural thing to want is visibility into Tier 1 suppliers. They’re the ones from which original equipment manufacturers buy directly, where relationships already exist, and contracts are in place. Unfortunately, risks such as modern slavery and human trafficking are often more prevalent at Tier 2 and beyond — especially when supply chains stretch long distances across the globe. … As deplorable and unethical as these practices are, they’re carried out worldwide and in many different supply chains. All procurement and supply chain professionals have an opportunity and responsibility to fight back now.” Easier said than done.
Barner goes on to explain that modern slavery doesn’t necessarily involve shackled workers toiling under the whip. She writes, “Hope for Justice, a global non-profit organization, defines modern slavery as ‘the condition of being forced by threats, violence or coercion to work for little or no pay, and of having no power to control what work you do or where you do it. It includes sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, domestic servitude, criminal exploitation and organ harvesting’.” Governments around the world are beginning to address these contemptible practices and supply chain professionals must pay heed to these new laws.
Bertrand Maltaverne, a Senior Analyst at Spend Matters, explains, “Procurement is staring down a major ethical obstacle in global supply chains, and global governments are upping their scrutiny of how well — and how quickly — organizations are able to address the challenge. The issue in focus is human rights — specifically, forced labor/modern slavery within global supply chains.” He notes there have been “a series of legislative decrees that apply to human rights and supply chains” and that more are on the way. He concludes, “They illustrate a global movement to get supply chains in order. This movement is fueled by governments creating regulations that require companies to look at what they produce, buy and source, even (and especially) when goods are coming from overseas.” Keeping abreast of the latest legislation is crucial since both financial and reputational losses are at stake.
As Barner notes, ferreting out problems in a company’s supply chain can be difficult when human rights violations are taking place in second- or third-tier suppliers, whose operations are being deliberately obscured from view. Nevertheless, the staff at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) notes, “Increasingly it is not enough to claim ignorance of modern slavery in a business or supply chain. Doing so may prove very costly to your reputation and your bottom line.” With pressure mounting from all sides, companies have no choice but to find human rights violations in their supply chains and ensure they eliminate them.
Although there are good reasons to celebrate Juneteenth, marketers must be careful about how they go about supporting the celebration. There is a solemnity associated with the holiday because civil rights remain a serious matter in the United States. Walmart learned this lesson the hard way when, in response to social media outcries, it had to recall a Juneteenth ice cream flavor and Juneteenth partyware from its shelves. In a statement, Walmart noted, “The Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence. However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize. We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate.” Walmart’s misstep is a reminder that good taste and cultural sensitivity still matter. Juneteenth is a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come from the days of slavery in America and how far we still have to go to ensure civil rights for everyone.
 Staff, “Juneteenth,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 19 April 2022.
 Reid Wilson, “40-year march: Only one state doesn’t recognize Juneteenth,” The Hill, 18 June 2021.
 Kelly Barner, “To Fight Modern Slavery, Start With Tier 2 Suppliers,” SupplyChainBrain, 14 March 2022,
 Bertrand Maltaverne, “Enabling supply chain transparency to combat forced labor and modern slavery (Part 1): The evolving legal frameworks,” Spend Matters, 11 April 2022.
 Staff, “Why we can no longer ignore modern slavery and how ICAEW can help,” Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, 5 February 2021.