With global supply chains as complicated as “a bowl of spaghetti,” and increasing evidence of the hidden human rights abuses involved in the manufacturing of a host of popular products, being able to account for the entire journey of raw materials and finished goods is no longer just a matter of best practice, but a crucial business obligation.
The customer is always right
Consumers are more aware than ever of the impact their choices may have on workers elsewhere and they are demanding accountability and human rights due diligence from their preferred brands.
And it’s not just consumers – company investors are joining the movement demanding an end to forced labor in supply chains.
Governments are beginning to take note. In the U.S., the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act specifically addresses the ongoing forced labor camps in the Uyghur Region of China and bans imports from the region. This is forcing companies to find alternate suppliers and encourages them to track every inch of their supply chains.
Unfortunately for most companies, it isn’t so easy to explain how their products are actually made.
The New York Times reports,
Studies have found that most companies have surprisingly little visibility into the upper reaches of their supply chains, because they lack either the resources or the incentives to investigate. In a 2022 survey by McKinsey & Company, 45 percent of respondents said they had no visibility at all into their supply chain beyond their immediate suppliers.
But staying in the dark is no longer feasible for companies, particularly those in the United States, after the congressionally imposed ban on importing products from Xinjiang — where 100,000 ethnic minorities are presumed by the U.S. government to be working in conditions of forced labor — went into effect last year.
Is A.I. the answer?
Technology companies think they are the future of supply chain mapping. Some offer services of block chain creation whereby digital tokens are attached to every product made at every point of its journey from manufacturing to the store.
Others, like financial intelligence lab Sayari, can search existing databases for red flags indicating potential fraud when items try to cross borders. Sayari has their eye on the Uyghur Region. Vice President of Solutions told the New York Times, “We’re flagging not only the Chinese companies that are in Xinjiang, but then we’re also automatically exploring their commercial networks and flagging the companies that are directly connected to it.”
Some are worried about the cost of implementing these new tools while others are skeptical about how accurate they are.
Join the movement
What’s certain is that things will not change overnight. In the meantime, the Freedom United community has already been flagging the risk of Uyghur forced labor to companies with existing links to implicated suppliers.