Archive Blog Detail

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery – Help Stop Modern Slavery this Holiday Season

Today is International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. With more than 50 million people globally in some form of modern slavery, we wanted to reflect on how everyone can get involved to help stop modern slavery.

 

As the holiday season approaches, and many of us take time off work to reflect on the year, and reconnect with friends and family. This season for many, is a time for gift-giving, celebration, and charity. During this time, there are many opportunities to take action against modern slavery, the seemingly smallest action can make a big difference that lasts far beyond the holiday season. The following are some examples of how you can combat modern slavery during this time.

 

Make a Resolution

New Year’s Resolutions, from going to the gym more to watching less TV are frequently made and easily broken. By making a meaningful New Year’s resolution for 2023, you can challenge yourself with practical actions that not only enrich your life but contribute to making the world a better place. You could resolve to dedicate 8 hours a month to volunteering, fundraise a certain amount for your favourite NGO, or educate 100 people in your life about modern slavery. You could even pledge to set up a club at your school or a working group at the office to get your peers involved. These kinds of resolutions will one day allow you to reflect on 2023 knowing you have helped to prevent modern slavery and save lives, an incredibly motivating outcome!

 

Volunteer

Local NGOs are always seeking support, and you may be surprised at how in-demand your skills are. This support is needed during the holiday season and beyond with thousands of anti-slavery NGOs that need help. Support varies from practical work on the ground to help vulnerable people during the holiday season through to jobs that can even be done remotely, like fundraising, writing, website maintenance, accounting, marketing,  and legal support. Taking some time to research and speak to modern slavery NGOs and charities will show you how useful your skills and time can be, and may lead to a newfound passion project in 2023.

 

Photo by Roman Synkevych 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

Shop Thoughtfully

As you are buying gifts for friends and family, make a conscious effort to choose companies and brands that are actively engaged in prevention of modern slavery. Positive reinforcement demonstrates to companies that consumers care about modern slavery, and encourages positive action. Apps like Good On You allow you to research how your favourite brands are working on modern slavery issues and understand how they are combating this crime, with recommendations for ethical retailers. Most organisations (particularly those that operate in the UK and/or Australia) are legally required to publish a publicly available modern slavery statement on their website that you can access. Take a look at your favourite brands’ statements, and read about the work that they are doing. Reward those brands that are taking action by choosing them for your gift-giving this holiday season.

 

Gift a Donation

Consider making a donation to an organisation working against modern slavery, either for yourself or as a gift to a friend or family member. A gift of a donation not only brings joy to the gift giver and receiver, but also to great joy the organisation and beneficiaries that it supports. In a year where NGOs fight to survive the impacts of Covid-19, and modern slavery is affecting even more vulnerable people, a donation gift has more meaning than ever.

Consider donating this holiday season and return receive an NFT. To learn more about The Mekong Club’s end of year NFT fundraiser in celebration of our 10 year anniversary December 12th, 2022, follow the link.

 

All of the above actions are simple but significant steps that can be taken to prevent modern slavery this holiday season. Share this article to encourage your friends and family to do the same, and help end modern day slavery!

Author – Phoebe Ewen

Archive Blog Detail

4 Things to Know About Modern Slavery Risks in Shipping to Carry Out the 3 Steps Toward Supply Chain Sustainability

When detecting modern slavery risks, one that often goes unnoticed is the risk in the maritime supply chains. Many businesses outsource this function and, thus, may need to learn the employment situation within their supply chain.

 

Given the high volume of workers required for loading, unloading, repairing, and other daily tasks in shipping, the vast and complex supply chain is vulnerable to modern slavery risk. Suppliers may overlook workers’ human rights when trying to cut costs to deal with the recession on a tight budget.

 

Yet, shipping is an essential component of the supply chain for transporting freight, accounting for 90% of global trade. Despite its importance, supply chain workers face severe exploitation, jeopardising a company’s supply chain sustainability.

 

The Mekong Club has spent a decade developing solutions and tools to end modern slavery in supply chains. And here are four things you should know about modern slavery risk in shipping before taking the following three steps to ensure supply chain sustainability.

 

Let’s dive right in.

 

OVERVIEW OF MODERN SLAVERY RISK IN SHIPPING

 

  1. What is modern slavery risk in shipping?

Shipping modern slavery risks occur when many seafarers are exploited and abused—for example, extended working hours, fraudulent employment contracts, low pay, and a lack of food and drinking water.

The worst-case scenario is abandonment. It involves the shipowner leaving the seafarers without contact, money, food, or transportation to home.

 

  1. Why is the prevalence of modern slavery risk in shipping?

The shipping industry can enjoy less stringent regulations using flags of convenience (FOC), which enhances the modern slavery risk. FOC-registered vessels sail under a foreign flag.

 

For example, a ship can be registered in Liberia, owned by a Greek company, chartered by a Chinese company, and crewed by Filipinos. It’s challenging to track down each of these parties and determine who is to blame for any transgressions.

 

Most ship owners register their vessels under a FOC. FOC provides minimal regulation, preferential registration fees or tax benefits, and the ability to hire labour anywhere in the world. As such, ship owners may leverage FOC to use migrant workers and exploit them.

 

These migrant seafarers lack access to information about their rights and may not speak the local language. They face significant challenges in determining what slavery is and how to report it. They also work in isolated conditions, away from friends and family, making it difficult to receive support and escape.

 

  1. Where are modern slavery risks in shipping?

The modern slavery risk in shipping exists all over the world. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has recently prohibited bulk carriers flagged in Panama, Liberia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, though many cases remain unidentified.

 

AMSA banned these ships for underpaying or failing to pay their seafarers. These ships also violated other Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) involving working conditions, accommodation, food and medical care and other rights.

 

  1. Why care about modern slavery risk in shipping? Simple. Supply chain sustainability.

Supply chain sustainability is essential to help your business thrive in terms of productivity, sales, and market value.

 

When a company addresses modern slavery risks in shipping, such as long working hours and a lack of food, worker satisfaction, retention, loyalty, and productivity would increase throughout the supply chain.

 

Consumers will see the company assuming corporate social responsibility when businesses report efforts to end shipping modern slavery risks. As a result, customer loyalty and sales may improve.

 

Following the “S” indicators and addressing modern slavery risks in shipping supply chains can reassure investors that shipping modern slavery will not jeopardise a company’s reputation. This avoids lowering its market value.

 

With increasing expectations from stakeholders on supply chain sustainability, addressing modern slavery risk in the shipping supply chains would be a significant first step.

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TOWARD SUPPLY CHAIN SUSTAINABILITY

  1. Identify modern slavery risks in shipping

The first step toward supply chain sustainability is to map your organisation’s structure and conduct a risk assessment to determine how much work needs to be done. There are four significant issues to consider when evaluating:

 

  •  Are your suppliers and vendors upholding their Supplier Code of Conduct or modern slavery-related commitments?
  • Do effective grievance and whistleblowing mechanisms exist?
  • Is your organisation supplementing information provided by suppliers with on-site audits and meetings with their workforce
  • Is your workforce aware of and trained to recognize the signs of modern slavery risk?

 

To comprehend these four issues, it is necessary to understand who and what managerial positions within an organisation can play an essential role in reducing modern slavery risks within supply chains.

 

You can conduct due diligence on managers, agents, officers, and, in the case of time or voyage charterers, the counterparty ship owners. You can also pose the following questions to them:

  • Could you please explain your supply chain sustainability policy to me?
  • Do you know any known modern slavery risks in the shipping supply chain?

 

A solid understanding of the above four areas will assist you in determining how vulnerable your company is to the modern slavery risks in shipping.

 

  1. Manage identified modern slavery risks in shipping

After identifying and assessing modern slavery risks in maritime supply chains, you may wonder how to address the identified risks. You may conduct additional due diligence on the entity’s operations and supply chains to review and adapt contract terms and supplier codes of conduct. Then, carrying out remedial steps where modern slavery is identified.

 

  1. Prevent modern slavery risk in shipping

Now that you know how decision-makers and employees in your company contribute to modern slavery risks prevention. You also have tackled the identified risks. To ensure supply chain sustainability, you can move on to prevent future modern slavery risks in shipping.

 

  • Track suppliers to identify potential modern slavery risks in shipping.You can conduct self-assessments and site visits regularly for higher-risk third-party shipping suppliers and contractors to detect modern slavery risk and propose improvements to strengthen their governance systems. You can also see if the vessel has been barred from entering ports due to MLC violations.

 

  • Through risk assessments and internal audits, implement processes and KPIs to track the effectiveness of steps to eliminate modern slavery risk in shipping to ensure supply chain sustainability.

 

  • Educate employees about shipping modern slavery risks and their ramifications. As part of their induction training, you can provide modern slavery awareness training to all your employees and new hires. This can let them know and avoid modern slavery risks in the maritime supply chain.

 

  • Stay current on the shipping industry trends. Our online search tools assist businesses in delving deeper into industry-specific topics by searching archived news articles, blogs, and websites from credible sources. This can let you comprehend the complexities of managing modern slavery risk in shipping.
  • Hire a compliance officer responsible for the above steps if needed.

 

  • Formulating modern slavery policies will entail gathering current policies, identifying gaps, adapting existing policies, and developing new procedures. You can conduct internal audits in compliance with the Modern Slavery Act. You can also ensure that all new supplier agreements include contractual clauses prohibiting slavery. We also recommend that you keep a channel open for reporting potential noncompliance. With Diginex, we created an innovative tool for workers’ voices called Apprise Audit. The Apprise Audit system will allow companies and front-line responders to interview workers anonymously and remotely in their native language to ensure your supply chain is slave-free.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Identifying and addressing modern slavery risks is a significant barrier to sustainable supply chains. However, with the above three steps of proper inspection, training, tools and policy, you can protect people suffering from slavery in the shipping supply chain.

 

To learn more, join us for our upcoming webinar on November 24th at 16:00 GMT+8. To register follow the link by clicking here.

 

___

 

For more information on Apprise Audit, get in touch to learn how we can help you to collect essential information on working conditions in your shipping supply chain at info@themekongclub.org.

 

Author: Tsz Yin Wong

__

Reference:

https://www.tlblaw.com.au/modern-slavery-in-supply-chain/

https://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/en/knowledge/publications/b87356e9/modern-slavery-and-human-trafficking-reporting-the-risks-of-modern-slavery-in-maritime-supply-chains

https://www.swireshipping.com/information/info-pages/sustainability/modern-slavery/

 

Archive Blog Detail

A Voice of Many: Modern Slavery Today

October 18th is Anti-Slavery Day, and this year we invite you to learn more about human trafficking and modern slavery by reading and sharing this story to help raise much needed awareness to encourage governments, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals to do what they can to address the problem. 

 

We start with Zimal’s story to illustrate realities of modern slavery. 
Thank you to Daria Toschi for this contribution. 

 

I am Zimal and I have a dream.

Hi,

I am Zimal from Pakistan. I am 17-years old and one of the 15 million people employed in the textile industry in this country. Every worker in this industry has their own life and their own dreams, and today I want to tell you a little about mine.

 

I was given the name ‘Zimal’ by my friends who work alongside me in the factory. In our language, the word ‘Zimal’ is also used to describe a large piece of cloth that can be used to cover the entire body, hiding the wearer from view. Sometimes I feel like this name fits me well as I work each day invisibly in the same factory cutting and sewing glamorous clothes for people living far away who will never know me. For five years, I have entered the same turnstile each morning before dawn, not knowing what time I will be allowed to go home and each week not knowing if I will be paid the wages owed to me. If I speak up, nobody will listen, so I continue to be invisible and work to scrape together what little money I can to send back to my family.

 

Every month I sneak out of the boarding house to go to the market and rummage through the massive pile of second-hand clothes once loved by fashionable people in faraway countries. I rummage for hours in the hope of finding a few pieces for my sisters and me to proudly wear secretly at home when we play, “If I were free, I would wear…”

 

But I hardly find anything that is worth my pennies. The skirts, jackets, tops, sweaters, shoes, and accessories that make it here are usually so dirty that it would take a massive amount of soap, sweat, and tears to make them shine again. Besides, we are often not paid for our work, or if we are, then our money is taken from us to pay off debts that we took on to get work in the factory. Buying clothes for playing dress-up is not an option for us most months.

 

If I were free, I would buy every beautiful item and start my own business where we would take second-hand clothes that were once loved and give them a new life. My sisters and I would create stylish new pieces that so many others would want to buy. We would employ a workforce and give everybody fair pay and fair hours, creating freedom for many others who now live as I do, in fear.

 

So, this is my dream, to be invisible no longer.

 

But this opportunity seems far away from me now, as I am trapped working for an employer who will always want to control me and stop me from ever leaving this life.

 

For as long as I am in this situation, I am Zimal, the ghost-like girl who will keep rummaging at the Sunday market to keep herself alive with the illusion that, one day, she will create a new tomorrow for the women of her country.

It is my hope that by sharing this story, the many millions of people like me will someday become visible.

 

 

The Reality of Modern Slavery and How You Can Support

 

Stories like Zimal’s are the reality for millions of people across the globe, who are trapped in modern slavery. People are exploited through debt, fear, coercion and may often see no way out of their situation. However, the world has woken up to this issue, and there is a global drive to create workplaces that empower workers, that are to be free from exploitation and abuse.

 

While it may be tempting to shift blame onto particular brands and industries for the existence of this issue based on one or two news articles or hearsay, many companies are engaged in positive action in this space that goes unnoticed.

 

At the Mekong Club, we work positively and collaboratively with companies who are striving to strengthen industries against modern slavery. This may be through putting mechanisms in place to ensure that workers can safely speak up about their conditions, training staff and suppliers on worker rights, through to investing in community initiatives to support with education and healthcare.

 

We, as consumers, also play an important pivotal role. It can be as simple as researching our favorite brands working on modern slavery through the app Good On You and rewarding companies taking action in this space.

Archive Blog Detail

International Sporting Events: A Catalyst for World Betterment

I made the twenty-five hour drive from Moscow to Sochi in the summer of 2013, where I would spend the next year living with my family in a cramped, orange-colored apartment overlooking the Black Sea. Over the course of six months, I saw the city transformed: buildings erected, restaurants opened, souvenir shops filled to the brim with Olympic merchandise. A resort town on the “Russian Riviera,” Sochi was relatively unknown to those outside the country until it was nominated as the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics. 

A spectator at the Games, I never imagined the hidden crimes that plagued international sporting events. During major events like the Olympics, forced labor and human trafficking reports often spike. 

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

The driving force? Demand. 

In order to build stadiums and upgrade public infrastructure quickly, a large labour force is required. Unskilled workers, desperate for employment and an income, accept these jobs and are left at the mercy of employers seeking to gain maximum profit. In one reported case, eleven men were found victims of human trafficking, subjected to abhorrent living conditions and false promises in regard to their wages during construction of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. The safety and protection of workers is also not prioritised, with one Napalese worker dying every two days during the construction of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

While a heightened demand for labour is the driving force behind one human exploiting another, transportation of victims disguised as visitors is the means by which it is done. Many illegal migrants are exploited and abused, often indebted to their traffickers, and at the mercy of those controlling their movement.  Mega events create the perfect conditions for traffickers to move workers around with ease and without consequence, a fact supported by the high rates of illegal migration discovered during the 2010 World Cup. 

So what can be done? 

The answer, in short, is a collective effort by the International Olympic Committee, non-governmental organizations, and the host country itself to educate visitors on human trafficking and the role they can play in its prevention. It’s A Penalty, an organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking by using international sporting events as a platform, has rescued over 16,800 victims through collaboration with law enforcement, hotels, and airlines. The latter is especially important given that 71% of labour trafficking victims were brought to the United States via plane during the 2018 Super Bowl. 

Businesses can also do their part in the fight against human trafficking by demanding transparency from their suppliers, especially when it relates to construction. Legislation in the U.S., U.K., and other countries have shifted in this direction, requiring companies to certify that their products are free from forced labour at every level of the supply chain. This may involve the private sector ensuring that any workers employed in construction projects have employment contracts, access to grievance reporting, and their conditions regularly inspected via social auditing procedures. Often issues in the construction industry are hidden in plain sight because companies use third party labour brokers and fail to conduct comprehensive inspections on how the migrant labour was sourced. Transparency, not naming and shaming, is “one of the single largest deterrents in being able to prevent labour trafficking,” according to Annalisa Enrile, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Major sporting events, especially the Olympics, are founded on values of friendly competition, mutual respect, and the promotion of excellence. What people fail to realise is that these values are not confined solely to the realm of sport but can also be used as a catalyst for change in building a better world.

Author: Mackenzie Nace

Sources:

https://u.osu.edu/osuhtblog/2018/03/05/human-trafficking-and-forced-labor-in-the-context-of-the-olympics-and-major-sporting-events/ 

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/japan-activist-group-launches-global-campaign-against-child-trafficking-and-exploitation-as-tokyo-olympics-approaches/

https://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/25876477/the-rise-exposure-human-trafficking-sports-world 

https://www.interaction.org/blog/how-global-sporting-events-can-encourage-human-trafficking/

Archive Blog Detail

A New Frontier for Us: ‘Metaversification’

By definition, the metaverse represents a “virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users”. While the metaverse has been around for many years in the form of computer games and simulation worlds, it has continued to grow at a slow, gradual pace. With Facebook’s recent public announcement in October 2021 to invest billions into metaverse technology, this all changed. Many tech companies and internet service providers are expanding their efforts in this new frontier.

What can we expect from this new metaverse reality? The most likely outcome will be computer-generated worlds that allow a person to put on a headset and enter three-dimensional virtual environments. Each of us will become avatars of our own selection – people, animals, comic figures, monsters, and the like. At first, we expect that these characters and environments will be simple and unsophisticated. But in time, these worlds will become more and more complicated and life-like as more people join. The metaverse will also bring together elements such as digital currency, marketplace/digital commerce, gaming, digital assets, entertainment and events, online shopping, workplaces, and social media.

One good example of an existing metaverse is Second Life. This virtual world, which has been around since 2003, allows people to create an identity, meet people, buy land and build their own environment or purchase an existing one. People who enter these worlds sometimes find it hard to escape. As one user stated, “I literally created the life I wish I had and now I’m addicted.” Over the weekend, I read an article that stated that by 2025, each of us will spend up to one hour a day in this new reality. Wow, this is an amazing prediction.

As the metaverse grows and expands, the non-government organisation (NGO) world needs to be involved in this process. This will ensure that this new reality doesn’t go off in a direction that ignores morals, ethics and human rights. In addition, the metaverse could offer a good place to allow NGOs to get their messages across to the people who will frequent these virtual worlds.

Photo by UK Black Tech on Unsplash

For this reason, the Mekong Club is already exploring a role we can play in the metaverse development process. This includes reaching out to Facebook, Google, and other major development players to offer our advice and guidance. With ESG being such an important, emerging priority for measuring what companies can and should do in relation to the planet, communities and workforces, we feel the same values should be included in the development of this new kind of reality. There are a number of different activities we would like to explore, including:

  • Recommendations: The Mekong Club is seeking to acquire a seat at the table as this new phenomenon unfolds to help offer advice and guidance on how to include human rights values and other components related to addressing racism, discrimination, bullying, and sexism. Some of these elements have already been found in existing metaverse environments.
  • Modern Slavery Prevention: Modern slavery recruitment has been found on a number of social networking platforms. For example, vulnerable groups are targeted by false promises of work or groomed into exploitative situations via online messaging platforms. In some situations, people are encouraged to send and share explicit material that is then used to blackmail and exploit them further. The Mekong Club will offer suggestions on how to avoid the metaverse allowing this to happen.
  • Virtual Reality Film Tours: Virtual reality (VR) represents “a three-dimensional, simulated environment that is generated by computer technology” and it focuses on “an experiential interface rather than observational”. Research has informed us that the best way to learn is to experience a situation first-hand. The benefit of learning from VR is that it offers the viewer an opportunity to experience the emotional outcome of a sensitive issue. This allows the person to internalise on both an intellectual and emotional level. The Mekong Club has used VR tours in the past to sensitise people on sex trafficking and forced labour. We are in the process of acquiring more content related to this technology.
  • Metaverse Workshops and Events: We will explore how we can use the metaverse to offer workshops and talks to raise much-needed awareness on the topic of modern slavery.
  • Virtual Office: We are exploring the idea of having a metaverse office that would allow us to reach people in these worlds. The exact makeup and approach are presently under consideration.

The metaverse concept is exploding. The Mekong Club doesn’t know what this will mean for our charitable efforts, but we hope to go along for the ride, help influence the “metaversification process” and instil the concept of “metaverse for good”. Where this path will take us is yet to be known.

If you are interested in this process, please let us know. We are always open to collaboration.

Author – Matthew Friedman

Archive Blog Detail

Human Trafficking & the Hidden Effects of Conflict

As devastation in the Ukraine prompts governments to quickly enact sanctions and companies to pull operations and services from Russia entirely, we see a looming crisis caused by the forced displacement of millions of people that equally must not go ignored by the public and private sectors. This crisis is not new, it is something that is a continual threat in so many locations around the world. This being the human trafficking and forced labour risk that comes with war, which can lead to the start of decades of abuse and exploitation of the refugees and their families.

The linkages between trafficking in persons and conflict are well-researched. During an armed conflict, many elements that increase individual and group vulnerability to trafficking – such as lack of economic opportunities, discrimination and gender-based violence – are exacerbated. Moreover, as a result of forced displacements, community and family support networks are weakened or destroyed, which increases individual vulnerability.

“Almost one percent of the world’s population, some 82.4 million people, have been forced to flee war, violence, conflict or persecution, and find safety either abroad or within their own countries,” said Tomoya Obokata, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. “These refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people are especially vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery because they often face poverty, discrimination, unemployment, job insecurity and limited access to basic services in their new communities”.[1]

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

 

As the conflict in Ukraine unfolds, we have already seen the forced displacement of approximately 1.5 million people so far into neighbouring countries.

So how can companies and governments act in order to protect the displaced from exploitation?

The focus of national governments, local NGOs, international organisations, aid agencies, the EU and others must be to ameliorate people’s vulnerabilities, giving them alternatives that are not merely the ‘lesser of the evils’, and providing them with what they need in order to establish their lives in their new location.

If basic needs such as housing and food are able to be met, people will be less desperate and less likely to accept risky offers. Collaboration between states and organisations will be crucial to allow this to happen. Opportunities for income generation for adults will reduce the incidence of low-level trafficking. To make sure that vulnerable children, women and men do not fall through the gaps in our aid structures, international and national actors should always take into account that a refugee or internally displaced person may also be a victim of human trafficking.

The private sector has an crucial part to play in the struggle against trafficking in persons, and companies can act now to play a fundamental role in supporting displaced people that may seek work in their supply chains.

Companies must update their assessments taking into account new forced labour risk in the destination countries for refugees coming from conflict zones. They should consider whether their policies reflect the needs and circumstances of migrant workers who may be refugees. This involves working with their suppliers in a collaborative way to ensure that migrant workers are recruited fairly and ethically. This continual gathering and sharing of new knowledge around human trafficking global issues should be a regular part of any company procedure.

Companies may consider special trainings for suppliers, labour agencies and internal teams to account for the new risks and challenges faced. It is important ensure that refugees and migrant workers are not discriminated against, as such discrimination and exclusion could lead to an even higher risk of human trafficking of these populations. Educating teams is crucial to avoid discriminatory practices.

Companies and suppliers should consider whether their worker trainings and awareness programmes, grievance mechanisms and other key labour services for their workforce are adequately available in the languages spoken by the refugees and migrant worker populations. They should also consider whether their social audit processes account for the circumstances and language requirements needed to ensure that refugee populations’ are taken into account.

Finally, companies should also consider how they can engage with their peers and share knowledge and resources on the topic of modern slavery and keep abreast of emerging issues. This can be done through engaging with groups like the Mekong Club, participating in working groups and actively seeking dialogue with the wider industry on this topic.

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27484&LangID=E

Author – Phoebe Ewen

Archive Blog Detail

What Does an Effective Grievance Mechanism Look Like?

This blog post was guest-written in collaboration with Labor Solutions.

At the Mekong Club, we carry out regular anonymous surveys of private sector professionals working within retail and manufacturing industries. One of the key questions we ask is ‘Are workers within the supply chain of your company able to easily report concerns about their employment conditions, in their own language?’.

In other words, are workers able to easily access appropriate grievance mechanisms?

Less than 50% of the respondents surveyed in 2021 answered ‘Yes.’ But over 70% of respondents claim to have a modern slavery policy in place; which by definition should include grievance mechanisms. Lack of access to worker grievance is a glaring example of policy not being supported by tangible action on the ground.

Consumers, investors and shareholders are now expecting companies to support social sustainability policies with action. A grievance mechanism can help, and is understood as a formal complaint process that workers can use when a business’ activities negatively impact them. Grievance reporting enables companies to validate and monitor the policies they construct. Companies with high engagement levels make two and a half times more in revenue than their competitors with low engagement levels. Yet, worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged.

Increasingly, grievance mechanisms are being required under mandatory human rights due diligence laws (mHRDD) across in the EU, Canada and the US. The German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act notably mandates all companies with more than 3,000 employees that are either based in Germany or German branches of foreign companies must have a grievance mechanism in place by January 1st, 2023. Grievance is a rare area of the anti-slavery strategy that is measurable and works to scale if done correctly, generating clear ESG-friendly data points and case studies; gold-dust in the murky world of sustainability reporting.

Scrutiny should be applied to those who claim they have no grievances, as grievances can be found even in the most respectful workplaces. While no grievances may look great, it often means that the feedback collection systems are faulty or workers are fearful of reporting grievances.

Both the correct worker feedback collection system and the right response process are essential to deliver returns and impact worker engagement. Effective worker voice systems are composed of an ongoing cycle of decisions and actions that all impact one another.

Photo by Allan Wadsworth on Unsplash

We asked our grievance partner Labor Solutions to define “effective grievance mechanisms” and got a breakdown of what success looks like in practice for all actors involved:

FROM THE WORKER’S PERSPECTIVE

ANONYMOUS: Our team works with often factories and hears management sing praises about their worker feedback system:

“Our workers come into our offices and tell us how they feel every day. We address their issues on the spot. We have a great relationship with them.”

This alone is not an effective worker feedback system. While it open dialogue with employees is great for an open door policy, when workers are unable to log their grievances, some will not come forward and serious issues may not be addressed.

KNOWN: Workers need to know about the system. It needs to be promoted consistently and openly. It should be discussed as part of the onboarding process, announced during team meetings, and posted in public places. If workers don’t know about the system, they won’t use it.

ACCESSIBLE: Whatever system you choose needs to be accessible to your workforce. If workers don’t have email addresses or mobile phone access, an email or mobile phone system would obviously be inaccessible.

FROM THE EMPLOYER’S PERSPECTIVE

CONFIDENTIAL: Employers are more likely to seek worker feedback if they know the feedback is confidential and not shared with unions, their clients, or others. We have seen that many third-party helplines have low utilization, often around 2%, while those that are run by employers directly are much higher, around 25%. This also means that small misunderstandings can be kept from ballooning into huge complaints because management can address worker concerns quickly and directly.

TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION: If an employer has no way to follow up with a worker on a complaint or question, it is unlikely that they will be able to find an effective solution. For example, if a worker drops a message in a grievance box that says, “My manager hit me,” there are a lot of additional questions that need to be asked—like “who is your manager?”, or “when did the incident occur?” If the employer isn’t able to have a two-way, anonymous conversation with the worker, they won’t get the information they need to make change. In addition, if they do solve the problem, they aren’t able to let the worker know how it was solved, leaving workers feeling like their questions went unanswered.

EASILY AGGREGATED DATA: A system which collects data, aggregates and organizes it, allows top management to identify and follow trends and decide when executive action is needed. It also helps with investigations. If the same problem is being reported consistently, it helps investigators uncover the root of problems faster.

Photo by Pathum Danthanarayana on Unsplash

INVESTIGATION AND RESPONSE PROCESS

EFFICIENT: Efficiency is key to ensuring that a concern is properly addressed, and that both parties stay engaged and committed to resolving the issue at hand. Efficiency in responses is characterized by its directness, timeliness, and clarity. Even if you don’t have a resolution to the issue, or think the feedback is impractical, it is still important to respond directly, emphatically, and promptly. Across all of our clients at Labor Solutions, we see a direct correlation between the speed of response and the utilization rate—the faster the employer works to respond to the worker, the more likely the worker will use the system. A message like this is fine to start: “Thank you, we are investigating and will get back to you as soon as possible.”

EXPLAINED: An efficient solution is great, but is lacking if only one party understands it. Management needs to make clear what the proposed resolution, or at least response, is and what it will look like for the worker. If management does not plan to resolve the issue, there should be a response explaining why. This ensures that at the least the worker feels heard and will hopefully continue to use the feedback system.

PROMPTS ACTION: A quality resolution is only as good as the action it prompts. Feedback systems that create win-win outcomes are dependent upon the resolution being meaningfully and continuously carried out throughout the workplace. This allows a worker to see that their feedback spurred change, causing them to feel increased engagement and can consequently increase their productivity. It is important to consider if feedback should prompt review of internal procedures and processes in addition to reviewing the specific issue at hand. For example, if a worker is reporting abuse, in addition to addressing the specific claim, it is also important to determine if the abuse is just a singular event, or if it is systematic and widespread, indicating a need for procedures to be altered to prevent similar events in the future.

For a response process to be effective, it is important that the facility is not scared of punitive actions for issues brought to its attention. The facility needs to feel safe admitting there is a problem and asking for support from surrounding resources to solve that problem. Leadership and management should encourage open dialogue and improvement activities. Typically, punitive actions should take place only if the facility does not work to address issues brought to its attention.

Technology can be at the core of any good grievance system identifying cases of modern slavery, forced labor, and sexual and gender based violence and harassment (SGBVH), but it cannot act alone. With a healthy amount of scrutiny towards a lack of grievances and a proper system in place to address and respond to worker feedback, worker trust will naturally grow stronger. Ensuring that the feedback system in your workplace has the above attributes will create a space that allows management and workers to maintain that trust; therefore, fostering a safe and healthy workplace environment that promotes both wellness and productivity.

Authors: Elena Fanjul-Debnam, Sophie Zinser ,Phoebe Ewen

Archive Blog Detail

7 Prisoners: The Movie

Now and then a good movie comes along that really provides an insight into a particular social issue or topic. A few examples of this include: Platoon, which for me depicted the true horror of the Vietnam War; Blood Diamond, which showed how the diamond trade was dominated by criminals and traffickers; and the Killing Fields, which profiled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, based on the experiences of two journalists.

One movie that does an amazing job of portraying the issue of forced labour and how it unfolds in a typical situation is “7 Prisoners” (2021). This story, which is based in Brazil, offers the audience an accurate portrayal of a typical forced labour situation in which the victims are identified, recruited, broken in, and forced to comply. What I really appreciated about the movie was that it walked the audience through the gradual process of grooming victims in a way that helped the viewers to understand the nuances and subtleties.

When I do a typical presentation on the topic of forced labour and supply chains, I talk about the range of issues addressed by the United Nations and the International Labour Organization, including: debt bondage, deception, threats, document retention, violence, confinement, forced overtime, lost freedom of movement, and more. As this story unfolded, all of these elements were introduced in a way that was natural and organic. The way the storyline played out, a light was shined on the trafficking process that offered true clarity. For many, this film will fill in the gaps that we have in our mind related to the human trafficking process and how it unfolds.

Another aspect of the film that I found interesting and relevant was how the story avoided creating a black and white depiction of good and evil. The back stories related to the traffickers offered a glimpse into how they came to take on these roles. One of the victims is also shown going through this process as he transitions from a victim to part of the established trafficking hierarchy. This is a familiar outcome in many trafficking stories.

For me, this form of education-entertainment is a great way to increase awareness. A good movie allows us to take abstract ideas and relate them to our understanding of real life. This makes the content and the message simple to understand. If told well, a dramatic movie can achieve several goals simultaneously, as the following list shows:

  • A Natural Form of Communication: Depicting a social issue in a movie is an effective way to motivate, teach and advocate. We all enjoy stories and can relate to this form of communication.
  • Common Experiences: Because many of us share similar life experiences, as a movie plot unfolds, there is often instant recognition. We understand what is being portrayed because we have experienced similar things ourselves.
  • Chronology: Movie scripts offer chronological details to help the viewer understand and remember a series of events, steps or actions leading up to a specific outcome.
  • Expectations: As human beings, we are naturally curious. When a story is being told, we want to know what the outcome will be. We wonder, “Where is this story going? How will it end? What happens next?” Our sense of expectation keeps us watching. Few other forms of communication instill this “need to know” anticipation.
  • Emotional Response: A good movie allows us to relate emotionally to what is being shown and can evoke any number of different emotions. Injustice can make us angry. We can be inspired when someone does something extraordinary. We can laugh out loud at absurd situations. Simply put, we are drawn to stories because they trigger our emotions.
  • Learning from Others: Through storytelling we can learn a great deal from the experiences of others. If a story describes how a person got themselves into a bad situation, it can be used as a warning to stop people making the same mistake.
  • Validating and Comparing our Values: Stories allow us to relate to common opinions and feelings. If the outcome of a story is inconsistent with our views, it challenges us to reconsider those views.

While the characters presented in “7 Prisoners” were fictional, an attempt was made to provide a “generalized scenario” that depicted the real-life experience that so many men and boys were forced to endure as victims of this modern-day slave trade. I feel that this film will allow viewers to understand the problem from not only an intellectual level, but also from an emotional one. Consider checking it out. It is worth the ride.

Author: Matthew Friedman

Archive Blog Detail

The Relationship Between Global Warming an Modern Slavery

Climate change is real, despite resistance from many to accept this fact. For this very reason, many environmentalists have little hope that summits like the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland will yield any concrete solutions. In India, the section of society that is most affected by the effects of climate change, are the farmers. Kheyti is an organization in India that has developed “greenhouse-in-a-box” – an affordable, modular greenhouse bundled with full stack services that uses 90% less water, grows 7 times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income. According to Kheyti, India has 120 million farmers, and even more people who are dependent on agriculture and farming for a livelihood. Agriculture is affected by rising temperatures that cause drought and water scarcity, and unseasonal rains and cyclones that cause floods, cloudbursts, landslides and severe crop damage. In 2021, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare reports over 5 million hectares of agricultural area was affected due to heavy rains this year. Not only are crops destroyed, but rising temperatures make them more vulnerable to disease and pests.

India is largely dependent on the monsoons for its annual rainfall. But the monsoons have been unpredictable in the last few years. This year saw the late withdrawal of the southwest monsoon and the improper formation of the northeast monsoon, resulting in unpredictable weather systems and unseasonal heavy rainfall and floods in certain parts of the country, resulting in major crop damage. When their crops fail, farmers become hopeless and desperate, and some choose to move away from farming and explore alternate sources of income, often migrating from rural to urban areas and cities for work. They become easy targets for human trafficking and forced labour due to their vulnerability and limited skills, having lived and worked mostly in the agricultural regions. Mass migrations result in broken families, very often mothers who move to cities for work must leave their children with grandparents or other relatives in their villages and hometowns. Men and women who come to the cities seeking jobs are often misled by unscrupulous agents and forced into hard labour, with little or no income to send to their families back home. Some are forced into the sex work industry or become bonded labourers, losing their freedom and sense of dignity, with no one to turn to for help. Women who move from rural areas to the cities to work as housemaids are often not allowed to return to their villages for years, until their employers grant them a leave of absence. They often work under appalling conditions and are only fed one meal a day.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

According to the World Migration Report 2022, published every second year by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of the UN, more people are being displaced by disasters — caused by the changing climate — than conflicts, reversing a historical trend. The numbers remained high despite travel restrictions due to Covid 19 outbreaks. DownToEarth reports that most of the new displacement is due to climate related events: displacements due to storms – 14.6 million; displacements due to floods – 14.1 million; displacements due to extreme temperatures – 46,000; displacements due to droughts – 32,000, in 2020.

The numbers are alarming, and there is an immediate need for world leaders to address the issue of climate induced migration, to curb modern slavery and protect these vulnerable sections of society from further harm. It is truly a humanitarian crisis when people affected by climate change and natural disasters are rendered homeless and forced to migrate for survival, only to find they are exploited in locations they sought refuge. At the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it was acknowledged that “climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage”. What are developed and developing nations doing about it, remains a question. A recent report by the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), showed that the international community has not yet succeeded in implementing the principles of the UN Global Compact to the extent needed. David Miliband, International Rescue Committee (IRC) President and CEO summed up the issue:

“The report findings confirm that refugee assistance and global resettlement targets are woefully insufficient, neither addressing the unprecedented level of protection needs, nor demonstrating solidarity with the countries that host the vast majority of the world’s refugees. As a priority, governments should increase their funding for refugees and set bold, ambitious resettlement targets for 2022 to provide a lifeline to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

The only long-term solution is to combat climate change in order to avoid degradation of the land and mass displacement of affected populations. Unfortunately, climate change denial continues, often by parties who have a vested interest in the economies that contribute to climate change. There is an avoidance of acceptance of climate change during a time where only hope for humanity is to make everyone, without exception, a part of the effort to save our environment. It is a change in mindset, and a change in lifestyle. There is enough evidence to show that climate change is one of the major reasons for mass migration. It doesn’t seem farfetched that people affected by climate change would choose to migrate to a different state or city. In the most extreme of circumstances, researchers are contemplating the idea of humans inhabiting the moon or other planets when the earth becomes uninhabitable.

Migrants are most vulnerable to modern slavery and human trafficking, given their socio-economic conditions, and the loss of their livelihood and homes, and the most at-risk of climate change impacts. The question that society needs to ask itself, is what can be done before it is too late?

Author: Annabel Bantleman

Archive Blog Detail

Be The Hero: The Importance of Volunteerism

Our world faces significant troubles. Our atmosphere is heating up at an alarming rate. Our polar ice is melting. Some of our most beloved species are near extinction. People are enslaved in nearly every country in the world. More than half the world lives in dire poverty. Wars rage in more than ten countries. Millions still die from starvation, preventable diseases and so much more. We must take stock of the fact that these problems are not going away. And in many cases, they are actually getting worse.

When faced with this list of troubling issues, many will say to themselves: “Why do I have to listen to such things? It’s so sad and depressing. Why can’t we let the people who are supposed to fix these terrible problems just do their job? What does this have to do with me?”

As a humanitarian professional who has lived and worked in over 40 countries around the world, I have come to realize that if those of us who work on these issues could solve them, we would. But the fundamental truth is that we simply can’t. They go well beyond what a few thousand people around the world can fix. These crises require an army of united people – people who care.

And let’s face it, these problems belong to each and every one of us. What is the justification for this statement? When we are born into this world, we share our human experience with 7.6 billion other people. We share the air, the water, the resources, the animals, the plants, the food, the places and so much more. Every one of us benefits from what this world has to offer. But too many of us take this for granted – almost as a privilege or an entitlement. This is not right.

To respond to this situation, we need a way to engage, inspire and motivate ordinary people to accept some responsibility for this world and to do something – anything. How will we do this? We need a series of tools to make a compelling case for their voluntary involvement, including: public speeches, books and articles that inform and inspire, volunteer support programs and more. This approach will create a vast army of committed volunteers who will form a community of initiators, facilitators, motivators and responders.

I consider everyone who volunteers, no matter how big or small the gesture, to be heroic. There is heroism within each and every one of us. It is a voice of good, of righteousness, of action and of love. In today’s world, this voice too often lies dormant and receives very little nurturing. This heroic part of us can rise up and face the problems of the world head-on.

Photo by ray sangga kusuma on Unsplash

For the past thirty-five years, I have given countless presentations to help motivate people to step up and become involved in our world and its problems. While my own personal issue happens to be addressing human trafficking, my message to others is simple: find a cause that resonates with you and join the fight. Understanding which issue is closest to our heart is an essential first step. Maybe a person wants to fight global warming, address injustice, reduce poverty or stop bullying. From experience, we all know that we tend to be more motivated and committed to work on things that are more important to us.

What prevents most of us from getting involved? There are two factors. First, many people feel doubt. I often hear people ask: “What could I possibly do to help? I am just one person. What difference could I make?” If only one person were to step up, then I’d agree that probably not much could be expected. But if 10 million people stepped up and offered their small, compassionate gestures, imagine the impact. Success in this area is a numbers game. Second, there are few mechanisms in place to help a person down the path to acting.

As a set of core values related to volunteerism, I believe that collective actions have the greatest chance of impact – and that an army of ordinary people working together can change the world. I believe that for change to happen, we need to unite different types of people – all sharing their unique experience and skills together. I believe in collaboration because I know that we are stronger when we work together as a community rather than passing the buck to a handful of paid professionals. I feel inspired to act because I know this work is urgent—and that it affects us all in one way, shape or form. Finally, I believe in harnessing people-power, because I know that it is individual decisions that have the greatest impact on helping to heal our world.

Yes, our world is in trouble, but we don’t have to passively accept this reality. Our world has the capacity to heal more people, feed more people, educate more people, resolve international and community issues, and help others when a disaster or conflict arises. When society accepts this challenge to address our issues and problems, incredible solutions often follow.

The Mekong Club offers a talk related to the importance of volunteerism entitled “Be the Hero: Be the Change.” This talk reminds us that we can all be the everyday heroes offering this hope. From the first story, this presentation moves an audience’s heart by offering compelling anecdotes related to the fight against human trafficking and other social issues, it offers practical wisdom and rich lessons, and outlines a path forward for voluntary action. Through this process, the training compels each of us to examine our own potential and purpose in life by looking at how our lives could serve others. The presentation inspires corporate teams to begin their personal journey of contribution to the greater good through many practical examples of heroic actions that anyone can undertake.

If you’d like to get involved and volunteer with us, please fill out our volunteer application form.

Author – Matthew Friedman

Archive Blog Detail

Migration Matters: Climate Change & Modern Slavery

When evaluating modern slavery and ESG, we tend to see articles and media focusing on modern slavery as part of the ‘Social’ element and Climate Change as strictly ‘Environmental’. However, when we take a moment to consider the causes and consequences of modern slavery and the challenges facing sustainability in supply chains, this picture becomes much more complex. This blog examines the relationship between modern slavery and climate change and challenges this view of the two as separate issues for categorisation.

First ,we must consider modern slavery trends and the drivers of modern slavery, one of which being migration. People migrate for many reasons, to find work, be closer to family members, and explore new places. In many cases, migration can offer world of new opportunities and prosperity. However, for many migrant workers, particularly those seeking low-paying work in global supply chains, the migration journey is marred with risk of exploitation and abuse. Modern slavery trends indicate that traffickers prey on migrant workers, from unscrupulous recruitment agencies forcing workers into debt to secure roles, to criminals luring migrants with false job opportunities before forcing them into dangerous or illegal situations. Migration is a key focus area for modern slavery policymakers, NGOs, governments, and companies seeking to better protect workers. Understanding the drivers of migration when promoting sustainability in supply chains is therefore important to see where modern slavery risk may lie.

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

Climate change can cause displacement of people in many ways. Some displacement may be because of a particular event known as a ‘climate shock’, this may be a sudden natural disaster that hits a community and causes an immediate surge of migrants fleeing to safety in nearby places. Examples of climate shocks may include tsunamis, major floods, or hurricanes that are fueled by underlying climate issues. Less immediately recognizable as drivers of migration may be slow-onset climate events. These long-term deteriorations in weather conditions may include rising sea levels leading to community displacements over time or erratic rainfalls leading to unpredictable harvests and famine. Furthermore, such slow-onset conditions can lead to conflicts as groups compete for resources in an increasingly unpredictable and unstable environment. The World Bank estimates that, by 2050, the impact of the climate crisis, such as poor crop yields, a lack of water and rising sea levels, will force more than 216 million people across six regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America, from their homes. This migration is set to become a key modern slavery risk area.

Migrants, particularly those migrating in unexpected or desperate circumstances, are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation into modern slavery situations. They may make risky decisions to cross borders to escape their situation, paying traffickers or taking on debts to reach their destination. Modern slavery trends show that traffickers prey on this vulnerability, deceiving victims into forced labour situations and bringing the under their control through force, fraud, and coercion. There is also risk when people migrate from rural to urban environments, into places and industries that they are unfamiliar with.

One woman, who migrated to Accra from northern Ghana, used to farm until the land was ruined by flooding and she was forced to move. For seven years she has worked as a porter (kayayie), carrying items on her head. She said:

“Working as a kayayie has not been easy for me. When I came here, I did not know anything about the work. I was told that the woman providing our pans will also feed us and give us accommodation. However, all my earnings go to her and only sometimes will she give me a small part of the money I’ve earned.”

The relationship between climate-induced migration and modern slavery is just one area in which these two global issues are interlinked. Many companies and investors invest significant resources into their ESG and modern slavery reporting and metrics. However, the ‘E’ (Environmental) and ‘S’ (Social) are seen as two separate groups of activity. Climate change and modern slavery are intrinsically linked and evaluating supply chain sustainability must take this into account. As the world changes and evolves, so we expect to see modern slavery trends and the relationship between modern slavery and different ESG factors become more intertwined.

Author – Phoebe Ewen

Archive Blog Detail

Sustainable Safeguarding: Calling for a Respect-Focused Approach to CSR

COVID-19 is testing corporate commitment to social responsibility. While major e-commerce and software companies have turned enormous global profits, making massive donations and supporting COVID-19 relief efforts, mid- and large-sized corporates are facing harsh cost-cutting realities just to keep core business practices afloat. In some cases, this means marginalizing CSR initiatives as companies face a global decline in consumer behaviour. Across the Greater Mekong Region’s sprawling supply chains, some of the hardest hit industries, including the garment and luxury goods sectors, provide employment for hundreds of thousands of supply chain workers. A shift in consumer behaviours leaves remaining consumers increasingly ethically conscious. Corporations must learn to strike a balance between profitability and ethical appeal to a dwindling and increasingly selective consumer base.

To do this, CSR teams are increasingly turning to frontier technologies (AI solutions, expert systems, machine learning), some of which were already being used in corporate CSR efforts. But CSR in general, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, demands more than quick fixes. Technological solutions will instead have to intervene along a web of COVID-19 induced financial, psychological, emotional, and personal pressures that are impacting employees at all rungs of the corporate ladder from upper management to supply chain workers. CSR teams are also being faced with mounting evidence that COVID-19 discriminates, in a way that many existing frontier technologies do not adequately acknowledge. Black and ethnic minority individuals are the most likely demographic to contract COVID-19, and comprise the majority of workers across global supply chains.

In short, significant changes in CSR are ahead, with frontier technologies perched at the fore in a) enabling more efficient and (hopefully) ethical business practices and b) supporting an increase in transparency between stakeholders across the global supply chain.

Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash

But key questions remain: Which stakeholders are responsible for safeguarding the public health and ethical behaviour of a corporation and its employees? Should frontier technology be integrated into existing systems to better address COVID-19’s changing and variable outcomes? And most critically, how can non-profits, research centres, and public sector stakeholders work better alongside corporates to ensure protection for a corporation’s most vulnerable workers?

Using CSR terminology, corporate safeguarding represents the next phase of the social compliance auditing solutions that we innovate at the United Nations University in Macau and the Mekong Club through our social auditing frontier technology product, Apprise Audit. We work on a data-driven, private, and empathetic modern slavery auditing tool for corporations to streamline social audits. But the recommendations that we make extend beyond the interview support and data analysis that our product offers. The core of our safeguarding approach with Apprise Audit is helping corporates understand the underlying factors that may spark conditions of forced labour across pre-departure, deployment, employment, return / onward migration.

Corporate safeguarding ensures that each company whose businesses or employees directly engage with vulnerable people must protect them from harm through upholding a moral ethics of care. With Apprise Audit, we insist that safeguarding as a concept also understands that conditions making workers vulnerable can change over time. We also point out that labour conditions exist along a spectrum, ranging from exploitative labour on one end to decent work at the other.

The idea of integrating corporate safeguarding’s holistic yet nimble approach into CSR seems easy to endorse yet may be difficult for businesses to implement. But we believe it is more than possible for corporates to allow for bureaucratic flexibility, frontier tech solutions, and empathy for supply chain workers through COVID-19 and beyond.

The approach is simple: Protect. Respect. Remedy. These three words comprise the UN Framework for Business and Human Rights put forth in 2010. According to this framework, states have the responsibility to induce regulatory controls that protect workers and corporations. Both states and corporations bear the responsibility of remedying problems as they arise. And perhaps most importantly, corporates should respect states, regulatory bodies and workers not just because they are obligated to under international human rights law, but because that is a standard of expected conduct — a bare minimum if you will — towards ensuring a corporation’s continued operations. With consumer purchasing decisions becoming increasingly informed by ethical concerns, and as workers bear immense mental and physical health strain, we call for CSR efforts to continue upholding tenants of safeguarding and respect. This is true now during COVID-19 conditions more than ever before.

Frontier technologies will play an increasingly integral role upholding both corporate safeguarding and respect for workers. But they are by no means “silver bullet” solutions. In reality, the complex social problems underlying tech solutions need to be part of a CSR team’s corporate safeguarding strategy. Businesses should therefore strive to use any means necessary, including technology, to protect and respect their workers. They should also work collaboratively across multiple stakeholders to remedy the vast web of interconnected problems these workers face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you to our guest writers Sophie Zinser & Hannah Thinyane.