Tech Against Trafficking 2023

Leanne Melnyk and Erika Wennerström

Quizrr Head of Impact and Partnerships Leanne Melnyk and CEO, Erika Wennerström at TAT, NYC 2023

How Tech can Take the Fight to Forced Labor in Global Supply Chains

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With visibility over supply chains growing, more and more incidences of forced labor are being revealed. According to the ILO, 50m people were living in conditions of modern slavery in 2021, of which 28m were subject to forced labor. Forced labor in supply chains is nothing new, but the plight of supply chain workers under the yoke of forced labor is becoming ever more prominent to the media, investors, regulators and the public.

Shocking statistics and a burgeoning awareness of just how little we know about worker’s experiences in global supply chains are making the need for solutions all the more urgent. One answer lies in tech, and its ability to innovate on local solutions that reach global scales and provide data that companies can act on. Just how good an answer tech offers was the subject of this year’s Tech Against Trafficking (TAT) summit.

TAT’s aim is to accelerate the development of tech tools to prevent, disrupt, and reduce human trafficking in supply chains and make resources available to survivors. They help companies map the landscape of tech solutions, identify the tools with the most potential, and ease dialogue between member companies that wish to eradicate human trafficking and make sure survivors can access the resources they need. 

Reporting: Getting the Data to Back It Up & Where to Get It From

Companies themselves have an undeniable responsibility to address forced labor in their supply chains. The ILO reports that 86% of forced labor cases are imposed by actors in the private sector whereas there are also growing concerns over state imposed forced labor. Regulations in the world’s largest markets, such as the US’ Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, are holding companies accountable, even if the exploitation occurs upstream in the supply chain – at the raw material or processing level. Forced labor import bans have already been adopted in the US, Canada and Mexico and are being proposed in the European Union.

The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive will also make it mandatory for in-scope companies to identify, prevent, mitigate and address any negative human or labor rights impacts that result from their business undertakings, in line with the UN Guiding Principles.

But many companies feel overwhelmed by the administrative burden that reporting creates. They struggle to identify forced labor risk in supply chains where downstream manufacturers and brands are too far away from where workers actually work to gather reliable data.

Companies feel the tension between the need for locally built solutions and global scalability. There are a lot of local, homegrown solutions out there that will work in individual workplaces. Local solutions often benefit from being trusted by their users and involve direct inputs from rights holders, but they can’t always work the same way when scaled to a global supply chain with a global problem like forced labor. Large companies looking to tackle the issue need interoperable, standardized solutions that can be rolled out equitably and easily incorporated into global operations. Ideal solutions would use the best of both worlds; local standards adopted at a scale where they can help all workers.

Wondering Where to Start? Let Workers Lead the Way

An obvious, but underused, starting point for companies looking to fight forced labor in the supply chain is with the workers themselves. Tech is making it possible for companies to go directly to workers, and use the data they collect to fight forced labor in the whole supply chain. 

Quizrr was founded on the idea of using innovations in communications technology to engage workers about their rights with localized content that is relevant to them. We use innovations in digitalization to localize content at scale throughout the whole supply chain. 

Engaging with workers also presents an opportunity to do more than to collect data, but to raise awareness and implement training on issues like forced labor. But it isn’t just a case of educating workers; many supply chain workers rely on representatives to safeguard their interests against the power imbalances supply chains sometimes engender. These representatives (managers, union members etc.) have a responsibility to understand the rights of workers, and to ensure workers are instructed on how to report grievances themselves. Spreading accountability like this will ultimately improve collective agency, raising awareness and providing the means for rights holders to better their circumstances.

In 2023, 121,000 workers completed Quizrr’s ethical employment training, a program designed to improve worker awareness about forced labor and other unethical labor practices. Quizrr uses informative, localized videos and training modules to engage directly with workers. The benefits of this approach are twofold. Not only do workers become better informed about the rights they have through realistic training videos that reflect their actual circumstances, companies also get primary source data on social and labor rights performance. 

Promoting Inclusivity, Accessibility, and Scalability with Technology

"There are predictable and pinpointable patterns for the dynamics that make a pool of workers in supply chains vulnerable to exploitation, as well as that create business demand to use forced labor."

Genevieve LeBaron

Combating Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance is Failing and What We Can Do About It

Gathering data on social impact can be a sticking point for companies; not just how to gather it, but how to make it useful. Companies shouldn’t collect data for the sake of it, data needs to be actionable and tied to measurable social progress in the supply chain. 
With data sourced from workers, companies can identify where forced labor might be hiding in their supply chains, and allocate resources accordingly. This data can also be useful for companies looking to carry out a double materiality risk assessment and get started on their non-financial reporting journey. But this only works if the worker engagement tools used are scalable and accessible to all workers.

Migrant workers remain vulnerable to forced labor in the supply chain; about 44% of forced labor victims are migrant workers. Quizrr’s data revealed that migrant workers in Thailand demonstrated a 20% lower level of awareness regarding their rights to have their recruitment loans repaid.

The Global Slavery Index estimates that approximately 11m people are trapped in forced labor conditions in India. This problem is especially acute for internal migrants who, according to Quizzr’s data, have the lowest understanding of their rights of any demographic. In response, Quizrr trained 70,385 workers on topics addressing the risks of forced labor and human rights violations.

Companies need to bring the experience of migrant workers into the light in order to make the right interventions. First, they need to engage with them through training tailored to their needs; training that’s multilingual and accessible on their devices. Then they need to fill data gaps on migrant workers to improve overall understanding of their experiences. With verifiable, actionable supply chain data in hand, companies can take steps to ensure that workers aren’t working under coercive circumstances. 

Confidentiality when filing a grievance is crucial to protect the privacy and well-being of individuals involved and encourages a safe environment for resolving issues. It’s no coincidence that the workers Quizrr surveyed showed limited awareness of their rights to non-retaliation and confidentiality when filing grievances. Only 43% of surveyed employees answered these questions correctly against an average performance of 73% across all training, reflecting a significant gap in their knowledge.

The “why” of ending forced labor in supply chains should be obvious to all, but the “how” is still open for debate. Tech Against Trafficking shows that there’s still a conversation to be had about using tech to identify and prevent forced labor, and to empower workers. What’s clear to us is that localized worker engagement, education, scalable data collection and the tools to make that data work for workers are helping to improve workers lives, and must be used as a force for good in global supply chains.

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