Companies who have faced criticism for poor working conditions found in their supply chains have backed a fund to combat forced labor. The fund supports tech startups that seek to monitor abuses or trace products.
A $23 million (€18.6 million) venture fund to tackle forced labor in large corporations launched on Tuesday, backed by big-name brands including Apple, Disney, C&A and Walmart.
Humanity United, a foundation established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, partnered with several corporations to create the fund, called Working Capital.
The UK's Department for International Development contributed £2.5 million ($3.5 million/€2.9 million) to the fund as well in so-called "sidecar" grants.
Working Capital will be used to support tech startups that are testing ways to make supply chains more transparent for businesses and consumers.
"We know concerned companies want to do more, but lack the adequate solutions to tackle such a complex issue," Liliana Giffen of Humanity United told DW on Wednesday. "By investing in innovative technologies we aim to give companies greater visibility into their supply chain, allow them to identify risks, and ultimately ensure their operations live up to their values."
"Our goal is to invest and scale innovative technologies that corporations can use to gain better insight into the labor practices in their supply chains, enable them to evaluate risks, address grievances in a timely manner and ultimately enable those in their supply chains to work with dignity."
Asked how the technology would help monitor working conditions in areas where people might have less access to mobile devices, Giffen replied "We know mobile phone adoption in developing nations is significantly growing, with increasing usage in areas such as Bangladesh, China and India growing to north of 80 percent of factory workers in some instances. However, beyond mobile technology, we are seeing promising innovations including wearable technology, that can help monitor worker’s health, or IOR sensor devices that monitor the safety of the environment in which they are laboring."
The fund has already invested in a company called Provenance that uses blockchain tools to help track materials and products during each step of the production process.
Ulula, another company the fund has already invested in, uses data analytics in an attempt to communicate with workers and give them an anonymous way to report poor working conditions.
Read more: UN calls for end of child labor by 2025
'Market demand' for fighting forced labor
Regulatory and consumer backlash over forced labor and child labor has increasingly put companies under pressure to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.
"There is a growing market demand for more transparent and responsible corporate supply chains," Ed Marcum, managing director of Humanity United, said in a statement.
Read more: Why modern slavery is widespread in Asia
"We see an opportunity to invest in emerging solutions that will meet the demands of large multinational corporations while also benefiting millions of vulnerable workers," he added.
At least 25 million people worldwide were estimated to be trapped in forced labor in 2016, according to the International Labor Organization and the rights group Walk Free Foundation.
rs/aw (AP, Reuters)