The report by Tech Against Trafficking praised the fashion and footwear sectors for appearing “more comfortable with sharing their supplier relationships, not just with each other, but publicly”.

It noted that stakeholders from these sectors reported this was not always the case, but in recent years “companies have adjusted to new expectations on supply chain transparency, including as a result of NGO pressure” from organisations such as t he Clean Clothes Campaign and Fashion Transparency Index as well as media and public pressure”.

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The report explained modern slavery is on the rise with over “27 million people in situations of forced labour on any given day, with 86% estimated to be occurring in the private economy”.

Claudio Formisano, global lead of human trafficking and forced labour at BSR and Alison Berthet, associate director of human rights, both representatives from the Tech Against Trafficking team, said: “Despite robust efforts to design technology solutions to enhance the way business, civil society and governments collect verifiable data for targeted interventions, the pervasive nature of labour exploitation and human trafficking remains largely hidden, and the data landscape is siloed.”

The duo believes that the end goal is to contribute to shaping a collective environment where all actors – not just business – engaged with supply chains can allocate more time and resources to designing anti-slavery interventions, rather than data acquisition.

The report explained increased regulatory pressures from the US and Europe to meet demand for specific evidence of forced labour risks has partly led to the development of a “supply chain data ecosystem” between different stakeholders like governments, policymakers, businesses and civil society organisation.

However, it pointed out that despite an increasing amount of data collected about forced labour risks, the “value and impact of that data is not being fully realised” as the field continues to lack “effective actions” to prevent, mitigate and remediate actual cases of forced labour.

The authors of the report believe this is in part because data is not being “effectively shared” between different actors in the supply chain data ecosystem.

Tech Against Trafficking envisages a more “effective” supply chain data ecosystem built around a federated or decentralised network of relationships where different actors collect and process data in a relatively harmonised manner, and are able to connect with each other directly or via data hubs.

According to the report, sharing data is not a goal in itself, but if purposefully done it can amplify the impact of anti-slavery policies, reduce the costs and duplication of data collection, and inform effective actions.

Moreover, the report underscored that this can help businesses better focus their resources and engagement efforts, governments target effective policies and enforcement, and civil society support greater impact.

Creating a more effective supply chain data ecosystem

The report identified seven areas for action by all actors involved. It said these are structured around three key principles to enable data sharing at scale for a more effective data ecosystem: the right data, the right resources, and the right behaviours.

Additionally, to support these recommended actions, Tech Against Trafficking sees opportunities to collaborate with its members and partners identified through this research in three areas:

  • Standardised and interoperable data, building on the ILO’s forced labour indicators and working in partnership with key standard-setting bodies and leading providers of supply chain risk data to align and build consensus around the most effective qualitative and quantitative data points to identify forced labour risk
  • Cost effective, accessible and scalable technologies for a federated ecosystem that enables organisations, including smaller and less technologically advanced actors, to share data while retaining control and privacy to the extent needed.
  • Further dialogue between the public sector, civil society and the corporate sector on how governments can support a more effective supply chain data ecosystem.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that forced labour in the private sector generates $236bn profit each year across the world, up 37% since 2014.

ILO’s director general Gilbert F. Houngbo said at the time: “Forced labour perpetuates cycles of poverty and exploitation and strikes at the heart of human dignity. We now know that the situation has only got worse. The international community must urgently come together to take action to end this injustice.”

Another study by US think tank The Jamestown Foundation claims coercive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) employment and poverty alleviation policies will continue into next year with forced labour being described as becoming more “prevalent” yet “less visible”.