Meet Genevieve LeBaron, School of Public Policy’s New Director

October 12, 2021

The School of Public Policy gives a warm welcome to Genevieve LeBaron! Starting January 2022, Genevieve will commence her role as the new director for the School of Public Policy. Eva Lewis, program coordinator at SPP, reached out to Genevieve who is currently in the UK to ask some questions and get to know her a bit better:

From 2018-2021, you were Director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield. What will you bring from that experience to your new role in the School of Public Policy?   

One of the key things I’ll bring forward from my experience at SPERI is the importance of collaboration. At SPERI we built an institute that organically gave rise to several forms of collaboration – for instance, scholars from different disciplines undertook research together on key political-economic challenges; the International Advisory Board facilitated collaboration between academics, policymakers and journalists; and the Doctoral Researchers Network provided a vehicle for students to collaborate together and with Faculty members while shaping the governance and priorities of the Institute. 

I’m keen to bring forward the experience of building systems to support collaboration to help the School to continue and expand its mission of achieving high impact scholarship, not only doing rigorous and excellent research on public policy, but also taking that work forward through engagement with the public, advocacy organizations, and policymakers who implement change. 

You have a long-standing research focus in the areas of modern slavery, labour exploitation and global supply chains. Can you share some recent highlights of your research work in these areas?  

Absolutely; I’ve researched forced labour and human trafficking in supply chains for over fifteen years now. Unfortunately, despite two decades of global efforts to eradicate forced labour, it continues to accelerate in supply chains. My research investigates why this is and how policy actors can more effectively combat it.

Some recent research highlights include: a cross-country comparative study of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on patterns of forced labour in the global garment supply chain; a book called Combatting Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance is Failing and What We Can Do About It; and a series of policy briefs co-authored with colleagues at Stanford and Yale Universities that lay out how business models and supply chains could be restructured to eradicate forced labour.

I’ve also enjoyed working closely with policymakers to implement recommendations based on my research. For instance, I’m a Member of the UK Parliament’s Advisory Group on Modern Slavery and the Supply Chain and supported them to publish their first Modern Slavery Statement in 2020/2021, and I recently testified at the United States Congress Ways & Means Committee Hearing on forced labour in supply chains. 

Can you share some details about Re:Structure Lab which you founded, and are currently Principal Investigator?

Absolutely. The key challenges that continue to limit policy efforts to address forced labour in both the global and domestic economies are posed by prevailing business models and supply chain dynamics. Yet, these tend to be poorly understood, both in scholarship and in practice. In 2020, I co-founded Re:Structure Lab with colleagues from Stanford and Yale Universities to bring together leading academic experts, researchers, and real-world practitioners to address this challenge. These include Ambassador Luis C.deBaca, who led United States government activities in the global fight against contemporary slavery during the Obama administration, and Jessie Brunner, a leading scholar and advocate of evidence-based anti-trafficking policy. In collaboration with our students and other colleagues, we are currently drafting a series of briefs that feed research insights into ongoing debates about how practical reforms to business models and supply chains can be achieved. I look forward to having the Lab based at the School and to forging new collaboration with faculty and students interested in these topics.

Early in your academic life, what influenced you to pursue public policy as a career path? What advice do you have for Masters students looking towards their future in public policy?

I have long been motivated by an awareness of social and environmental injustice and the desire to see public policy evolve to address and mitigate injustice, marginalization, and exclusion within the economy. This continues to drive my research and engagement today, as I seek to understand the world’s pressing public policy challenges associated with global supply chains, including the severe economic hardship and human rights abuses experienced by workers at the base of these chains. As the Covid-19 pandemic is felt unevenly across society, as wealth inequity soars, and racism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination continue to be widespread, building institutions and policies that serve the public interest has never been more important.  My advice to Masters students looking towards their future in public policy is not to forget their passion and values. That might sound cliché, but as we learn more about policy and delve into the complexities of working in the public interest, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Vancouver is your hometown. What are you looking forward to about being back in the city after many years in the US, Europe and UK?

It is indeed!  I was born in Vancouver and was lucky to grow up as an uninvited guest on the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. I’m so excited to come home. I’m looking forward to living closer to my loved ones; I have a lot of family and friends in the city that I’ve missed while living abroad, especially during the pandemic when it hasn’t been easy to travel or see people, so it will be awesome to live near them again. I’m also excited to be closer to academic collaborators at SFU, UBC, and across Canada. I’m involved in several collaborations through two SSHRC grants and the Royal Society of Canada and being based in Vancouver will make this work much easier. I’m also excited to get reacquainted with the city since it has certainly changed a lot since I last moved away nearly a decade ago.

I’m going to venture a guess that you’re a “work hard, play hard” type of person – what are some ways you like to spend your time when you aren’t working?

As a Vancouverite, it is perhaps unsurprising that I love outdoor sports! My favourites are rowing, kayaking, skiing, cycling, and hiking. 

My family loves wilderness adventures, including bikepacking, and multi-day kayaking and ski trips. I’ve had a few knee surgeries lately to repair sports injuries, so am excited to get back to being active and enjoying the outdoors. I also love poetry and literature and when not working can often be found reading the London Review of Books or a novel at the beach or in a café during the rainier months.