Venture Fund Launched to Fight Human Rights Violations in Global Supply Chains

Supply chain, Leon Kaye, Omidyar Group, startups, blockchain, risk, human rights, bonded labor, forced labor, slavery, sustainable supply chain, transparency
A garment factory in Vietnam

The reality for many of the world’s leading brands, from technology firms to apparel companies, is that many businesses no longer make or produce the goods they sell – or in the case of some hotel chains, even own the properties on which their logos are emblazoned.

The outcome of this includes transformative business models and plenty of interesting case studies for business school students – not to mention healthy profit margins. But the results can also cause plenty of risks, and a lack of accountability, within global supply chains. Since Kathy Lee Gifford found herself in the midst of a public relations crisis a generation ago, plenty of wayward suppliers have caused many brands to find themselves in hot water over allegations of environmental degradation and bonded labor.

Many companies have since become more transparent about their supplier base, and have developed codes of conduct to which their vendors must follow, or find themselves without a lucrative customer. Nevertheless, it behooves companies to not only say they are committed to a sustainable supply chain, but are also offering their vendors financial and logistical support as well.

Companies may want to keep on eye on an effort that recently earned a large grant from the Omidyar Group, the self-named “philanthropic investment firm” founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam in 2004.

Humanity United, an NGO that falls under the Omidyar Group umbrella, announced that it has raised $23 million to be used to invest in startup technology companies fighting human trafficking, forced labor and other human rights violations occurring in supply chains worldwide.

The new fund, named Working Capital, says it also has the support of organizations such as the Walmart Foundation, C&A Foundation, Stardust Equity, and The Walt Disney Company. According to the fund’s executives, this structure of lining up global companies as the actual funders will help Working Capital arrive at social impact solutions that benefit all stakeholders – including workers, consumers, business, and society at large.

Working Capital’s priorities will include product traceability, worker engagement, sourcing platforms, risk assessment, and more ethical recruiting tools. Technologies that could benefit include blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, digital identity and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms.

Despite the emergence of tools such as social media and processes such as ethical audits, many supply chains, and more importantly, humans, are still at risk. This $23 million fund has impressive goals, but is still akin to weilding a butter knife in a gunfight. It behooves companies with a global reach to view Working Capital as an inspiration; by launching similar efforts, companies can then share with their stakeholders a compelling story of how they are truly doing what they can to solve one of the most pressing human rights and business problems this century – abuses within supply chains.

Image credit: ILO/Flickr

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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