A US$23m (US$32.4m) venture fund aiming to invest in ethical supply chain innovations that will enable corporations to operate more transparently and ethically around the world is being supported by brands including Disney, Walmart and C&A.
The fund, called Working Capital, was founded by US-based foundation Humanity United, and is being backed by the C&A Foundation, affiliated with fashion retailer C&A, the Walmart Foundation, and The Walt Disney Company among others.
Their vision is to build scalable solutions to improve labour practices in the global operations and extended supply chains of multinational corporations by reducing worker vulnerability and ensuring greater transparency into working conditions.
The focus is on improving product traceability, worker engagement, sourcing platforms, risk assessment, and ethical recruiting tools by investing in emerging technologies such as blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, digital identity and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.
“There is a growing market demand for more transparent and responsible corporate supply chains,” explains Ed Marcum, managing director at Working Capital.
“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 at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”
Support is also coming from the UK’s Department for International Development in “sidecar” grant funding for pre-investment and seed-stage interventions.
Led by a team from Humanity United, the fund has already invested in companies including Provenance, a technology platform that uses blockchain to enable brands, suppliers, and stakeholders to trace products from producer to consumer; and Ulula, a software and data analytics platform that allows organisations to engage with workers in real time to measure and monitor labour-related risks.
“Our aim is to use our strengths in collaboration with others to transform the supply chain systems we rely on,” says Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation.
“We believe in solutions that benefit everyone – from the workers who make the products to the consumers who purchase them, creating a shared value for business and society.”
Likewise, Brandee Butler, head of gender justice and human rights at the C&A Foundation, adds: “This unique partnership furthers our goal to end the worst forms of labour exploitation in the apparel industry, and promote accountability through innovative solutions and collaboration with industry players.
“We believe that gender justice is fundamental to improve conditions for workers and support the Fund’s commitment to gender lens investing to improve outcomes for women, and economic returns for investors.”