29 April 2015, Devex

Two years after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 workers and injured 2,515 — the deadliest garment factory accident on record — donors and entrepreneurs are calling upon the power of data to prevent forced labor worldwide.

Labor trafficking is becoming harder to track as companies’ supply chains grow more complex, often involving thousands of subcontractors and delivering goods to retailers spread across the planet. But labor experts at the Global Philanthropy Forum in Washington, D.C., last week said new data innovations can help untangle the labyrinthine webs of labor exploitation that put workers — and their human rights — at risk.

“Slavery is in most supply chains, and we need data to address this,” Justin Dillon, CEO of Made in a Free World, told Devex on the sidelines of the conference.

“No company is everywhere all the time; if we have data we can show where the risk is,” he added.

Dillon launched a predictive analytics tool six months ago called Forced Labor Risk Determination and Mitigation, to help companies dig deeper into their supply chains and identify materials and suppliers that are most prone to labor abuse.

To utilize the tool, companies upload their purchase data, which FRDM compares against a database of purchasing information for, “everything you can buy in the marketplace,” Dillon explained. The tool then identifies the company’s high-risk materials or suppliers and builds an action plan to address them. It might include policy changes, strengthened vendor agreements, or audit recommendations.

Other data-driven efforts seek to identify the individuals behind labor exploitation. Dan Viederman, CEO of Verité, is using data to expose the third-party labor brokers and recruiters who hire and manage the migrant workers and who play a major role in determining labor conditions.

“The labor facilitation piece of this is a massive weakness,” Viederman told Devex.

When workers find themselves in debt to corrupt recruiters who charge excessive fees, they are more vulnerable to exploitation, such as excessive work hours, obligations to perform dangerous tasks or to engage in unwanted sexual acts.

“What we’re doing with data is illuminating networks of labor brokers that facilitate labor migration. There is no global database of these brokers and yet many are the direct cause of labor exploitation,” Viederman said.



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