Technology has made the world smaller. One way we are feeling that is through the globalization of supply chains and the outsourcing of work. In today’s connected world, businesses produce a wide range of goods at cheaper prices by harnessing communications and transportation technologies that allow for them to operate in, and source from, countries with low labour costs. Unfortunately, countries with lower labour costs often overlap with countries that have poor workers’ rights records. This fragmented production model, coupled with downward pressures on prices, has too often lead to gaps in knowledge, and a lack of critical insights that have allowed for the severe exploitation of workers.
New uses of internet-based technology have the potential to identify, track, and highlight previously obscure information, as well as connect individuals and groups with each other to act on this information.
But technology also holds the key to rebalancing the scales. Advances in communication and information technology have transformed the way we access information, the way we communicate, the way we engage with each other and participate in society. New uses of internet-based technology have the potential to identify, track, and highlight previously obscure information, as well as connect individuals and groups with each other to act on this information.
At Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), we want to answer the need for better access to legal information. There are many laws in place that could be used to protect workers from abuse and hold exploitative employers responsible for their treatment of workers. However, governments routinely fail to enforce these laws, and workers rarely know their rights, leading to a culture of impunity for labour exploitation around the world. These are huge challenges in bringing justice to exploited workers, and by aggregating existing knowledge, and connecting people with this information we are able to support stronger legal action.
The variety of laws across different jurisdictions and high volume of interested actors made this problem ideal for a technology solution. These challenges center on easy access to the right information. With that in mind, we set out to develop a global online Hub capable of connecting activists, support organisations, lawyers and ethical businesses, while at the same time providing key information on the rights of workers and the obligations of governments and employers.
The Labour Exploitation Accountability Hub, launched in November, is a website that can be used to find relevant laws, learn about exploitation in various country contexts, share information, and compare the tools used by governments to fight severe labour exploitation.
The Hub aims to be interactive and user-led, generating a global discussion about what accountability looks like around the world and how success can be replicated in new locations. The impact of the Hub depends on users mobilizing this information tool to drive change by demanding justice from governments and employers.
All of our efforts are focused on making it easier to hold governments and companies responsible for exploitation in business supply chains. By creating a centralized, digital location providing the free tools to do so, we are taking a step in closing the gap between technology as a driving force of profit, and technology as a driving force for the protection of human rights.
Claire Falconer, is the Legal Director for Focus on Labour Exploitation [FLEX] follow her on Twitter, and LinkedIn.
This piece appears as part of KnowTheChain’s blog series on the intersection of technology and supply chain transparency. Follow the discussion at: http://bit.ly/1kPLLw8.
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