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How tech is transforming the fight against modern slavery

How tech is transforming the fight against modern slavery

Libertas™ is slavefreetrade’s distributed human source intelligence system, which provides real-time feedback on labour conditions directly from workers on the ground, in order to ensure human rights compliant goods & services. How is this tool transforming traditional approaches to supply chain human rights monitoring and helping to accelerate the movement to end modern slavery?

Modern slavery risks and the limits of traditional solutions 

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), approximately 40.3 million people today are trapped in some form of modern slavery. Out of this startling figure, the ILO estimates that 16 million of these victims are exploited in the private economy, with their forced labour being linked to the operations and supply chains of global businesses. Modern slavery thus can affect any sector or industry – including those which provide us with everyday goods and services – and is prevalent in almost every country regardless of level of economic development. Given the severity of this issue, the movement to end modern slavery has gained significant traction in recent years. This has been driven by various stakeholders, from increasingly socially-conscious consumers, to investors, to governments, as seen by the growing body of regulations and legislation requiring businesses to undertake due diligence in mitigating their modern slavery risks.

Indeed, the most progressive and responsible businesses are already taking the lead to make sure that none of their goods are produced under slavery. In the context of increasingly global and complex supply chains however, this has not always been an easy endeavour. Currently, a traditional solution adopted by many companies has been to incorporate social compliance auditing to monitor and assess labour conditions in workplaces linked to their business operations or supply chains. Under this approach, an inspection of a company’s facilities (such as a factory), is conducted by external auditors at certain times of the year. These auditors may then conduct interviews with workers as part of the process, to gain an insight into their working conditions and to detect potential ongoing human rights abuses. 

Nevertheless, traditional social compliance audits are not particularly effective for gaining honest, on-ground feedback from workers. The nature of such audits means that there are often biases or constraints in collecting quality intelligence through worker interviews. For instance, time limitations during audit visits may mean that it is simply not feasible to interview each worker individually. The lack of anonymity and privacy may also affect the responses given, as workers may not feel comfortable or safe enough to speak out openly. Other issues include communication barriers between the auditor and the worker, as well as the lack of consistency in assessing labour conditions given that social audits largely take place at specific points of time. Consequently, while businesses are keen to gather the necessary on-ground intelligence to be able to mitigate modern slavery risks, the scope and accuracy of data gained through traditional worker interviews are simply far too limited. 

The transformative power of tech-based tools in combating modern slavery 

Technology-based approaches to monitoring and detecting supply chain modern slavery risks are set to change this. Take Libertas™, slavefreetrade’s distributed, continuous human source intelligence system, designed to provide organisations with on-ground, real-time feedback and assessments of labour conditions at their workplaces. This is primarily accomplished through the Workforce Assessment component of the Libertas™ platform, which directly engages workers on the ground, and allows their insights to be more easily articulated to their companies. Questions in the assessment evaluate working conditions vis-a-vis slavefreetrade’s framework of 10 Principles for Decent Work, derived from international law. 

Comprising both a baseline and continuous questionnaire, workers can access these surveys through a unique code and submit responses via a mobile or desktop-based device in a secure, anonymous manner. In this way, concerns arising from traditional social audits, such as the lack of privacy, consistency and frequency in data collection, are effectively addressed. 

Libertas™ also provides comprehensive monitoring and assessment support to companies, through the incorporation of additional instruments which increase the usefulness of collected primary source intelligence. This includes: 

1. Supply chain/network mapping, allowing member organisations to connect their extended business network and gain full transparency over their entire supply chain, 

2. A values alignment questionnaire to assist in reviewing and strengthening a company’s existing policy on human rights at the organisational level

3. Remediation and referral processes to guide companies in acting on gathered intelligence. 

Libertas™ thus, combines worker-facing technologies with a management-level assessment platform to ensure that international labour standards are respected, and that modern slavery risks are immediately mitigated before they can take root.  

Key takeaways: The advantages of tech-based tools over traditional approaches

The Libertas™ system gives stakeholders in the modern slavery and social sustainability landscape an insight on the transformative impact of tech-based solutions. When it comes to monitoring and detecting supply chain modern slavery risks, the main advantages of slavefreetrade’s approach are as follows: 

  • Increases transparency of labour conditions, through a more effective collection of primary source intelligence. With  Libertas™, organisations can receive feedback directly from workers on the ground, at a scale that would be extremely timely and costly to replicate through worker interviews during social audits. 
  • Provides a secure, anonymised tool adapted to workers’ needs, which can be complemented with traditional communication materials to further increase familiarity and ease of use. By giving workers greater privacy and comfort in articulating feedback on their labour conditions, organisations will be able to gather more honest and accurate data.
  • Intelligence collection occurs on a continuous, real-time basis. In contrast to social audits, which only provides a snapshot of labour conditions at a point in time, Libertas is designed to give organisations an ongoing, comprehensive picture of their modern slavery risks, including how they may change over time. This thus allows for immediate mitigation and/or remediation, ensuring that organisations stay well clear of potential modern slavery violations.
  • Gives organisations a defined roadmap for action. The Libertas system is backed by slavefreetrade’s human rights framework, which clearly specifies 10 aspects of decent work, as well as the sub-categories to look out for under each principle. That means that as soon as the system detects a red flag or a less-than-satisfactory score, companies will be able to understand exactly which area requires action, and what needs to be done. 
  • Facilitates data collection and analysis on working conditions across a company’s global supply chain. The combination of on-ground, worker-facing tools and a centralised content management system means that feedback on working conditions can be easily collated, tracked and incorporated to inform policies at the organisational level. 
  • Makes the process of monitoring global, multi-tiered supply chains (and potential spillover risks) much more seamless. Through the  Libertas™ system, organisations can connect to their network of investors, business partners, suppliers and clients, thus having true transparency and control over their value chains.

Tech-based tools like Libertas™ are certainly transforming the fight against modern slavery. Leading organisations wishing to gain real-time proof of human conditions at the workplace would be well-advised to make the transition or at minimum, to complement existing social auditing programmes with such tech-based solutions. This will put organisations on the right track for having full confidence that their goods and services are truly slave-free.