On LaborVoices (2010–2019)

  1. Gathering worker-reported data, at scale, is not only possible — it’s straightforward. We’ve shown we can do this in 12 countries on 4 continents in over 15 languages. Workers do want to share what they’re going through, to help other workers, and to find the best jobs available for themselves. This is great, because it means that our primary social mission, improving the lives of vulnerable workers in global supply chains, can be accomplished, simply by aggregating and sharing this type of data among workers. To have real social impact, we needn’t wait for companies or factories to act. Workers can vote with their feet, immediately.
  2. Gathering this data in an unencumbered fashion — so we can release public data and re-use it for benchmarks, advocacy and industry products — is also straightforward, but is something no one, other than us, is doing, even today. To the contrary, the rest of the worker-voice market is still completely “captured”, gathering one-off survey data, where the resulting data is owned by their customers, and doesn’t contribute to any sector-wide accountability. We had expected that others would duplicate our data ownership model — we certainly made no secret of it! — but no one has. That is disappointing.
  3. The infrastructure to gather this data at scale cannot be built piecemeal, by selling resulting products and subscription services to individual companies. Rather, economies of scale require larger-scale investment. Investors are particularly hesitant to invest in this infrastructure, we’ve found. This means the ideal first partners for any infrastructure are governments and foundations. We have found a decent appetite for this kind of investment among these stakeholders, which is great news.
  4. The products built on top of this infrastructure should target, as customers, companies who don’t care about workers. We started out doing the opposite, targeting only companies who have budgets to monitor working conditions — companies who care. Even these companies have only small, volatile budgets for this work. These companies are almost entirely US- and EU-headquartered companies. We found that, whether pilot projects were $10K or $500K, they never grew to any larger scale, no matter what metrics we hit. We would do better to build products, not for monitoring working conditions, but rather for managing supply chains more generally. For example, worker feedback can show us which suppliers are likely to be late with shipments. This kind of supply chain intelligence is valuable regardless of whether the customer cares about the workers. An approach like this — focusing on delivering “secular” monetary value, rather than social value — is much more likely to scale in today’s market.
  5. In the long term, corporate social programs are under threat, globally, which makes it a bad market to be in. As BRIC consumers and investors start to dominate the global market, we should expect a values-shift away from US-EU human rights priorities. This means that companies will face immense competitive pressure to minimize efforts to monitor for labor rights abuses in their supply chain. All vendors providing this monitoring will find their customer base drying up. The only supply chain social initiatives that will survive are those that provide some secular value. For example, if a socially-minded startup could help a company in satisfying legal requirements, they might survive. Similarly, if a startup could provide operational efficiencies, similar to how energy efficiency is a “no-brainer” for any company, they may also survive. This is likely the only way to survive the rise of BRIC consumers and investors, who simply do not, and will not value social responsibility the way US-EU folks do.
  • Built an anti-human-trafficking start-up targeting the $50B supply chain management market, from self-funding through a seed investment round, operating in 12 countries.
  • First-to-market with an online dashboard of independent worker-generated intelligence on child labor, human trafficking and migrant worker abuses.
  • First with audio-based “Glassdoor-like” intel for workers to vote-with-their-feet for better jobs, in over 15 languages.
  • Grew to a peak team of 17 full-time employees and contractors.
  • Secured $4.8M+ in revenue through detail-oriented product development, sales, and operations.
  • Attracted a sales pipeline of 100+ multinational corporate brands in apparel, agriculture, and electronics.
  • Achieved 6 years of customer revenue, including from Apple, Gap, Nike, and Walmart.
  • Delivered 2 country-wide, multi-year supply chain compliance solutions for customers in Turkish apparel and Argentinian agriculture. Both became repeat, reference customers.
  • Discovered many individual abuses (infant deaths in Indian factory child care facilities), systemic issues (Syrian refugees in Turkish sweatshops), and industry conditions (statistically-significant signals of human trafficking across Bangladesh apparel factory workers).
  • Published first industry-wide benchmarking, ranking named factories in Bangladesh and Turkey.
  • Inspired press coverage: BBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Cited in The Big Pivot and a SJSU business case study. Authored a chapter in 2019 book on tech approaches to human rights in supply chains.

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