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Big brands back tech start-ups to resolve supply chain slavery

A $23 million venture fund resolve the threat of forced labour in big businesses with the help of tech start-ups was launched, backed by brands from Disney to Walmart. Humanity United, a US-based foundation, has partnered major corporations and the British government to create Working Capital, a first-of-its-kind fund to invest in innovations to ensure that companies’ supply chains are free from slavery. Humanity United says the fund has received capital from the C&A Foundation, affiliated with fashion retailer C&A, the Walmart Foundation, and Walt Disney Co, among others.

Slavery has increasingly come under international spotlight, putting continuous regulatory and consumer pressure on companies to ensure their supply chains do not employ forced labour, child labour and other forms of slavery.

From cosmetics and clothes to shrimp and smartphones, complex supply chains have multiple layers across countries — whether in sourcing raw materials or creating the final product — making it extremely difficult to clearly identify exploitation/slave labour conditions.

Ed Marcum, MD at Working Capital says, “There is a growing market demand for more transparent and responsible corporate supply chains. 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.

The fund, which received $3.5 million from Britain’s foreign aid department (DFID), is investing in new technologies to map supply chains and help workers to raise grievances, find legitimate employers and understand their rights. Its portfolio includes Provenance, which uses blockchain to trace products from producer to consumer, and Ulula, a platform helping firms to measure risky practices in their supply chain.

Humanity United, established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam in 2005, was involved in founding The Freedom Fund, the world’s first private donor fund designed to raise and deploy at least $100 million to combat modern slavery worldwide.