Teams from universities in the UK and US have joined forces to reimagine business models and global supply chains to promote fair, equitable labour standards in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield in the UK and Stanford University and Yale University in the US, with co-funding from Humanity United and the Freedom Fund.

The Sheffield team is led by Genevieve LeBaron who co-leads the projects with Jessie Brunner, a leader on evidence-based anti-trafficking policy, and director of human trafficking research at The Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford University. 

Based on the idea that the pandemic has created massive upheaval in business models and supply chains, and many iron-clad norms of doing business have been broken overnight, the group is developing a series of six issue briefs focused on tackling the drivers of labour exploitation in the global economy. The briefs will highlight existing data and evidence to support tangible actions that can be taken by corporations, investors, workers, media, governments, civil society, and other key stakeholders to support more equitable and fair outcomes.

The team’s work seeks to tie academic research to the calls for systemic change in global supply chains at a strategic moment when increased public attention is focused on these issues.

The tailored issue briefs will focus on the topics: transparency legislation and due diligence, commercial contracts and sourcing, investment patterns and leverage, value redistribution, ethical certification and social auditing, and worker debt. 

US-based foundation Humanity United expressed interest in supporting the development of the issue briefs in order to help illuminate clear ways in which all stakeholders can take action to create fair labour standards, believing that the business practices that surround global supply chains have helped maintain a system that incentivises human exploitation, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Corporations have largely gone unchecked and their harmful business practices have become ingrained,” says Ame Sagiv, director of forced labour and human trafficking at Humanity United. “Our aim in supporting these briefs is to catalyse systemic change as we emerge from this crisis; maintaining business models in which profits are made at the expense of worker safety and dignity is not an option.”

To ensure their issue briefs relate to, and gain traction with, key stakeholders, the research team will hold multiple convenings to test key ideas among relevant experts from across stakeholder groups, culminating in a series of public convenings in autumn 2021 to amplify the message and catalyse conversation around these issues.

A study published by the Capgemini Research Institute this week found overhauling supply chains is set to be a priority for consumer product and retail companies following the Covid-19 pandemic, with 66% of organisations noting their strategy will change significantly in the next three years.