Ulula app counteracts slavery and labour abuse in brands’ supply chains
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the horrors of child labour in the developing world, and its use by major clothing and apparel brands in the West, came to the fore.
Nike and Adidas, as well as other clothing and accessory retailers, were all accused of partnering with sub-contractors that use child labour, or that worked with suppliers exploiting children in ‘sweat shops’.
Part of the problem a brand such as Nike or Adidas faces in securing its supply chain against child labour, slavery or other forms of abuse, is that the further down the supply chain you go, the harder it is to police.
A brand can easily ensure that the factory where its shoes, t-shirts and other items are made is not using child labour or slavery, but what about the factory that supplies the rubber soles, or the factory that produces the material for the t-shirts, or the factory producing the rubber and the cotton at the source.
International brands’ global supply chains are infinitely complex (as an example, IKEA sources its products from more than 2,000 suppliers globally, who in turn source raw materials from dozens of separate suppliers themselves).
Because of this, tech innovators such as Antoine Heuty, chief executive of Ulula, are attempting to give the workers themselves the ability to police the supply chain and ensure fair practises.
Heuty argues that giving staff the tools to report workplace abuses, including forced labor, should improve data for brands that are striving to ensure their products are slavery-free.
“Our platform can help build trust and enable workers to connect with companies in real-time, anywhere, any time and in any language,” Heuty told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The app will use texts and calls and messaging apps and social media to encourage workers to share issues anonymously.
With modern slavery increasingly making global headlines, companies are under growing pressure from governments and consumers to disclose what actions they are taking to ensure their operations and products are not tainted by forced labour.
“By combining workers’ responses with other data, we can help companies in the fight against slavery, by understanding their employees,” said Heuty.
The platform does something similar to the whistleblower hotlines already set up by sportswear giant Adidas and UK fashion chain Primark, but it will go one step further by enabling this anonymous communication across a range of modes, while also merging that with other data.
Satellite imagery of palm oil plantations and building regulations for garment factories, for example, will give companies real-time insight into risks in their supply chains, according to Heuty, who says he wants to “motivate a race to the top” by establishing industry benchmarks, allowing companies and suppliers to compare working conditions and regulations against their peers.
Around 25-million people were estimated to be trapped in forced labour globally in 2016, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and rights group Walk Free Foundation.