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Noel Randewich

12:15 p.m. CST, December 30, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A new California law will force retailers and manufacturers to disclose from 2012 how they guard against slavery and human trafficking throughout their supply chains, ratcheting up scrutiny over some of the largest U.S. corporations.

From January 1, about 3,200 major companies doing business or based in California, a list that includes Apple Inc and Gap Inc, will be required to disclose steps they take, if any, to ensure their suppliers and partners do not use forced labor.

Companies risk getting sued by the state attorney general if they flout that law. But experts say the real pressure will come from the court of public opinion: consumers who care about ethical working conditions and take an interest in how their favorite brands get made.

Major U.S. consumer companies that have already come under fire include Apple. A group of suicides at supplier Foxconn, which makes the iconic iPhone, raised questions about working conditions at plants in southern China.