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The Investor and Modern Slavery; A Partnership Model – Brian Iselin

Esse quam videri “to be, not to seem”, is the motto of slavefreetrade, a Swiss nonprofit association formed at the end of 2018. The meaning of this motto is at the heart of the initiative. The Founder, Brian Iselin, working decades on slavery operations in supply chains, found that the business world was largely content with seeming to be doing something, not actually doing something. And, by and large, stakeholders including consumers, procurement agencies, shareholders, and investors were content with the seeming.

That has changed. The world is now abuzz with initiatives in the business, UN, and nonprofit world to come to terms with an increasingly engaged, sometimes even agitated, community of stakeholders interested in the human rights performance, and risk, of businesses. From shareholder revolts over serial sexual harassment, to child labour scandals, and the promotion of sustainability professionals into key leadership roles in companies, human rights are coming into focus.

It would be going too far to say there is momentum, but perhaps we can agree there is movement. This movement coincides with significant legislative movement in that direction, from a Modern Slavery Acts wave sweeping the Anglophone world, to human rights due diligence models in the Francophone and European world.

Taking a step back to take in the view, the corporate world which was formerly content to use its blend of structural, instrumental, and discursive power to hold back the forces of change in the business model, are finding that position less tenable. Clever businesses, those with an eye on the emerging world, are exploring what the wave means for them, and what they need to do to ride it. How does a business be, and not just seem to be, interested in human rights in workplaces?

The first step to wisdom as Socrates said, is to know thyself. If you are interested in human rights in workplaces, it cannot be only about “them” and “over there”. That is called “othering”, and it is the very core of the belief that we are better than everyone else, and beyond reproach. If you genuinely care about human rights in workplaces, start at home. Human rights issues don’t just happen “over there”, witness #metoo and #BLM.

Then, share with your business partner the warmth that comes from a fundamentally good workplace that respects international law and protects staff. This improves trust in your workplace and your business relations, and directly improves your bottom line.

So, let’s start with some background on the actual problem. Universally we condemn modern slavery. And we prohibit it. Yet we all buy it. We touch modern slavery every day more often than we touch our faces. Slavery, encompassing the legal conditions of child labour, human trafficking, forced labour, and slavery & servitude is more prevalent now than ever in history. More than across the 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, there are >40 million modern-day slaves. Beyond this., there are a further 152 million children exploited in child labour. Child labour, by the way, is not you working in your parent’s bookstore. Child labour is about exploitative conditions. Smartphones, electric cars, chocolate, coffee, fashion, tomatoes, palm oil, surgical gloves, and sugar: just some of the more than 400 product groups are founded on modern slavery and child labour. And, according to Hult University, more than 77% of UK businesses alone admit it likely exists in their business.

Historically, we are used to modern slavery being addressed as a form of organised crime. But that conceptualisation is far from accurate; the vast majority of the world’s human rights issues in workplaces have little or nothing to do with organised crime. And law enforcement can never solve modern slavery. Modern slavery is actually best understood as the bad, eroded end of a spectrum of human rights in workplaces, from modern slavery to decent work. Now, if you can objectively prove a workplace is at the decent work end of the spectrum, modern slavery will not be present. You cannot be at opposite ends of the same spectrum.

So, if we can automate and scale rigorous and real-time processes to understand exactly what is happening in a workplace, we can determine whether they are at the decent work end or the modern slavery end. We do this through assessing and monitoring conditions in real time against a carefully selected set of 100 indicators derived exclusively from international human rights law.

For this exercise, picture a long row of 100 escalators in a mall. At the foot of the escalators is the murky swamp of modern slavery. At the top of the escalators is the world of decent work. What if I told you, you could know at all times which step you are on for each of the 100 escalators, and whether you are moving up or down?

So, that’s slavefreetrade. A Swiss non-profit association, named one of the world’s Top 10 blockchain for social impact thought leaders in 2018, aims to foment a new global economy exclusively for goods and services proved to have been made without harming anyone.

(Contd. in PDF)

Brian Iselin 🇦🇺 🇸🇪

Head of Business Development | Chief Vision Officer/Founder | Modern Slavery | Rightstech | Human Rights Stockholm, Stockholm County, Sweden