Fighting forced labor
by Leticia Romero
Ramona Lampley, J.D., is a self-proclaimed “farm girl from North Carolina.” As a child, her first encounter with an attorney was at a county commissioner’s office, where the local farmers had hired a lawyer to represent them in a rezoning dispute.
“I was so impressed by how articulate she was and how she was able to advocate for the rights of these farmers in front of the county commissioners,” Lampley said.
This desire to champion on behalf of a cause became a calling for Lampley, inspiring her to attend Wake Forest University School of Law and focus much of her legal work on preventing forced labor in international supply chains.
Now the Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and South Texas Professor of Law, Lampley said that before joining the St. Mary’s University School of Law, the University’s mission piqued her interest.
“The emphasis on social justice and components of the Marianist mission were a huge draw for me,” Lampley said. “It changed the trajectory of my life.”
Safeguarding supply chains
From 2017 to 2018, Lampley served as chair of the American Bar Association’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Subcommittee on Sale of Goods. The broader UCC committee provides timely information and trains its members and the wider bar on recent developments in commercial law, commercial transactions and commercial practices. Her interactions in this subcommittee compelled her to learn more about forced labor, including child labor, and how it was a significant problem in international supply chains.
“Under American law, a large sports retailer, hypothetically, agrees to buy 100 soccer balls from a company in another country,” Lampley posed an example. “If the company delivers the soccer balls according to the contract specifications, they have satisfied their end of the contract, regardless of how they were made, if there were environmental hazards or if they used 6-year-old kids to sew the soccer balls.”
After seeing the lack of disciplinary action, Lampley worked with the subcommittee to create Model Contract Clauses, which domestic companies use in international supply agreements requiring the supplier to meet terms that include human rights.
“That is a humanitarian tragedy in and of itself, which my work and the work of others is trying to avoid.”
“Incorporating those terms would give the American company the legal grounds to refuse products when they found out they’d been made with abusive labor,” Lampley said. “The international community does want the means to have a contractual remedy when they find abusive labor practices.”
In 2019, Lampley published an article in the American University Law Review titled Mitigating Risk, Eradicating Slavery. Her research centered on whether U.S. courts would hold companies liable when they knowingly benefit from forced labor in their supply chain.
Lampley’s research continued in a forthcoming article to be published in 2024, in which she dove deeper into victim recovery.
“If there’s an abuse of labor in the supply chain here in the United States, there is typically an avenue for recovery against the employer, but a lot of times, these victims don’t have a voice or someone to bring the claim or even know that there is an avenue for recovery,” Lampley said. “That is a humanitarian tragedy in and of itself, which my work and the work of others is trying to avoid.”