Case Study

Technology for Human Rights

Despite growing efforts by business, investors, civil society and policy makers, workers in global supply chains continue to experience human rights abuses.

According to the International Labor Organization, almost 25 million people work in forced labor conditions worldwide, 47% of whom are in Asia-Pacific. While conditions have improved in some industries, the absence of robust regulations in many countries has placed the onus on business to safeguard the rights of workers.

“It’s essential that companies identify the most relevant supply chain human rights issues based on geography and sector. There is no one size fits all solution. Our approach to audits also needs to change. When done right, audits should serve as a starting point for improvements, not an end in itself.”
Kees Gootjes, Senior Consultant, Europe Middle East & Africa, ERM

After coming under criticism regarding human rights issues in their sugarcane supply, Coca-Cola partnered with the US State Department to create a secure registry, using blockchain, for workers and contracts. Blockchain’s validation and digital notary capabilities allowed Coca-Cola to establish higher verification standards to prevent child labor and forced labor.

Mobile technologies have also been used to improve supply chain conditions. For instance, mobile survey technology allows companies and suppliers to review worker-related data. Since 2015, Google has been working with its suppliers using tablets and mobile phones to ask factory workers to anonymously provide feedback on job satisfaction, health and safety, working conditions, working hours and wages. The data collected allows Google more direct oversight of working conditions at factories. It has also benefited suppliers by giving them access to data that enables them to diagnose and address systemic challenges and improve worker retention — a key challenge for many factories.

While the increased use of blockchain, AI and digitization has the potential to address supply chain labor challenges across sectors and industries, key barriers remain in place. Without increased collaboration and sharing of best practices, each company will be individually attempting to re-invent the wheel. While maintaining contracts with high-performing factories can be highly competitive, rapid scaling of solutions will be close to impossible unless companies work together to lift industry standards by sharing lessons learned.

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