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Center receives grant to reimagine supply chains

supermarket produce section as seen from above
Mar 1 2021

The Center for Human Rights and International Justice, jointly with faculty from The University of Sheffield and Yale University, recently received a substantial grant co-funded by Humanity United and the Freedom Fund to reimagine business models and global supply chains to promote fair, equitable labor standards in light of the pandemic. The multi-university team includes: Sheffield Professor Genevieve LeBaron, who has been called ‘Britain’s leading anti-slavery researcher’ by The Independent; Luis CdeBaca, former United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and affiliate of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition; and Center Director of Human Trafficking Research Jessie Brunner, a leader on evidence-based anti-trafficking policy.

Based on the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic has created massive upheaval in business models and supply chains, and many iron-clad norms of doing business have been broken overnight, the group is developing a series of issue briefs focused on tackling the drivers of labor exploitation in the global economy. The briefs will highlight existing data and evidence to support tangible actions that can be taken by corporations, investors, workers, media, governments, civil society, and other key stakeholders to support more equitable and fair outcomes. The team’s work seeks to tie academic research to the calls for systemic change in global supply chains at a strategic moment when increased public attention is focused on these issues.

“We are seeing a lot of momentum around innovations to rid supply chains of such labor exploitation, which is very encouraging, but as a society, we need to deeply question our values and priorities,” said Brunner. “This means reconsidering an economic system that at the very least perpetuates and at worst encourages such practices while focusing so heavily on constant and seemingly limitless growth, the benefits of which are not distributed fairly.”

The team will develop a series of six tailored issue briefs that contribute directly to current debates and initiatives, helping the existing body of research find its way into the real world. The topics include: transparency legislation and due diligence, commercial contracts and sourcing, investment patterns and leverage, value redistribution, ethical certification and social auditing, and worker debt. Their research briefs will draw from several industry sectors and geographies, including India’s tea industry, Ghana’s cocoa industry, and the fisheries sector in Southeast Asia.

Humanity United expressed interest in supporting the development of these issue briefs in order to help illuminate clear ways in which all stakeholders can take action to create fair labor standards, believing that the business practices that surround global supply chains have helped maintain a system that incentivizes human exploitation, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Corporations have largely gone unchecked and their harmful business practices have become ingrained, " said Ame Sagiv, director of forced labor and human trafficking at Humanity United. "Our aim in supporting these briefs is to catalyze systemic change as we emerge from this crisis; maintaining business models in which profits are made at the expense of worker safety and dignity is not an option."

To ensure their issue briefs relate to and gain traction among the target groups, the research team will hold multiple convenings to test key ideas among relevant experts from across stakeholder groups, culminating in a series of public convenings in the fall in order to amplify the message and catalyze conversation around these issues. Anyone interested in tracking this work can sign up for updates at tiny.cc/restructure.

“I am delighted to be collaborating with Jessie and the Center for Human Rights and International Justice in this work, as well as our colleagues at Yale,” said LeBaron. “They are the ideal partners for this ambitious effort to mobilize research towards fairer supply chains for workers.”

Photo: LJU Photo | license