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Using Technology to Address Contemporary Forms of Slavery in Supply Chains

Digital technology is a central facet of our world - particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses, individuals, and civil society into online spaces. Recently, the 8.7 Network sat down with Quintin Lake, co-founder of Fifty-Eight, a social enterprise that is on the cutting-edge of using technology to address contemporary forms of slavery and exploitative labour practices through their app, Just Good Work.


Despite new and emerging technologies, barriers to businesses achieving slavery-free supply chains remain varied, and the rise of digital recruitment models in the midst of the pandemic have actually created challenges. Many companies have been unable to travel to suppliers or factories to ensure good working standards, while recruitment agencies have been unable to meet candidates to verify skills against the needs of the role. When we recently sat down with co-founder of Fifty-Eight, Quintin Lake, we were intrigued to learn how technology has, in some instances, also enabled more secure processes and increased transparency for workers.



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Fifty-Eight was founded in 2014 to help companies achieve good labour conditions within their supply chains with the end goal of ensuring decent work for all. Years ago, Quintin and his wife and co-founder, Angela Lake, were deeply impacted by a piece in National Geographic about the realities of contemporary forms of slavery. This sent them on a journey to learn about the people affected by modern slavery, and the role that companies can play. When we spoke to Quintin, he reflected on a memorable trip to Egypt, where he and his wife drew a literal line in the sand and decided that, from that point forward, they would dedicate their skills and resources to addressing this issue.


In recent years, Fifty-Eight built an app called Just Good Work. Just Good Work is a free, interactive platform that gives migrant job-seekers critical information and advice for everything needed on the journey to employment. Now, the app is actively used in several regions of the world and has had a significant impact in terms of transparency for candidates, as well as the ability for companies to take quick action if there are issues in their supply chains.



Photo credits: Unsplash

When asked why he thought an app was an an appropriate tool for addressing modern slavery, Quintin explained that he has always known that technology has the potential for good. His first inroads into the business world was as an internet provider in New Zealand, enabling more equitable online access. He says that digital connectivity and relationships have an immense impact, and for supply chains they result in increased consistency, transparency, and efficiency. He noted that, when trying to tackle modern slavery, technology is at its best when it brings together various different groups for a common solution.


Despite harnessing technological solutions, In Quintin’s estimation, the biggest challenge remains the frequent disconnect between business values and business models. Companies might promote good work, but their business models could still demand rapid production or particular purchasing practices that allow modern slavery to flourish. In addition, requirements from investors, such as ESG disclosures, can sometimes prevent holistic solutions in favour of linear processes, and they can fail to account for all risks in the lower tiers of a supply chain. Quintin notes that companies and investors together need to find more impactful ways to eradicate modern slavery that go beyond disclosure mechanisms, saying that “Companies feel like they can’t have an open conversation about challenges and nuances in their supply chains, because there wasn’t enough understanding from investors and the public.”


Of course, COVID-19 has presented a set of entirely new challenges. With borders being closed, Quintin noted that there often hasn’t been the opportunity for individuals to work abroad, despite lacking decent work at home. Workers might be forced to find work or passage through unofficial channels, increasing their risk of exploitation. In additional, there are several examples of border closures and lockdowns forcing migrant workers to stay in dormitories abroad, increasing their risk of contracting the virus. Closed borders have also drastically altered local commodity prices. This, combined with school closures, has left children available to work for their families who must labour more intensely for the same levels of income. In the UK, Brexit has also added complexity, as seasonal worker schemes have had to recruit from new countries where there is perhaps less due diligence or recruitment networks in place.


Photo credits: Unsplash

On the employer’s side, digital recruitment models in the midst of the pandemic have created challenges as well as opportunities. Challenges include the inability for companies to travel to suppliers or of factories to ensure good standards. In addition, recruitment agencies haven’t been able to meet candidates in-person and verify their skills against the needs of the role. Opportunities, on the other hand, relate to how technology has streamlined the process - from secure digital contracting to translation.


When it comes to migrant workers’ rights, it is important to be proactive in ensuring that recruitment is being done responsibly. This requires digging deeper into what happens in agencies and countries of origin and ensuring that the process is safe and transparent on both sides. Quintin’s key advice for businesses looking to lead in protecting migrant workers rights? Be sure that your standards and work culture for migrant workers match other recruitment standards across your business at large.


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