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Re:Structure Lab awarded grant funding from Humanity United Action, the Ford Foundation, and Freedom Fund for their research and policy work to combat forced labour

June 12, 2024

Committed to eradicating forced labour, the Re:Structure Lab is on a mission to revolutionize business models and supply chains. Bringing together experts from Simon Fraser University, Stanford University, Yale University, and the University of Michigan, this interdisciplinary team combines academic expertise with practical innovation to combat severe labour exploitation, driving change from the local to global scale.

With generous grant support from the Ford FoundationHumanity United Action, and the Freedom Fund, the Lab is embarking on a new phase of their work. This phase is dedicated to strengthening links between research and public policy and equipping businesses, advocacy groups, and policymakers with evidence that business model and supply chain innovations are powerful and necessary tools to combat forced labour.

The Ford Foundation works to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, Ford has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. 

Humanity United Action (HUA) channels its resources toward igniting and nurturing innovative concepts, showcasing potential solutions, and facilitating the implementation of effective strategies. HUA understands that addressing the intricate and evolving obstacles confronting humanity demands strong comprehension, cooperation, and ingenuity. 

The Freedom Fund is a global fund with the sole aim of helping end modern slavery. The Freedom Fund is a catalyst in the global effort to end modern slavery, working in the countries and sectors where it is most prevalent. They invest in and partner with organisations and communities on the frontlines of ending exploitation. By partnering with those at risk of modern slavery as well as visionary investors, governments and anti-slavery organisations, they bring together the knowledge, the capital and the will needed to dismantle the systems that allow slavery to exist and thrive.

Faults in global supply chains allow forced labour to persist

In the contemporary economic landscape, traditional business models and global supply chains are experiencing significant strain. Even amongst governments and corporations that are well-intentioned, worker exploitation continues to prevail. 

Faults in the global supply chains thrive at the hands of various intertwining factors. For example, irresponsible purchasing practices, such as procuring below production costs, delayed payments to suppliers, inconsistent ordering, and rigid ship dates, accompanied by steep penalties, contribute to the problem. Purchasing practices such as these foster an environment conducive to exploitative conditions, as they make it increasingly challenging for suppliers to ensure adequate margins to compensate workers, set reasonable working hours, and provide safe workplaces.

In recognition of such concerns, researchers from the Re:Structure Lab are focusing their attention on the pressures global supply chains are facing. The Lab is comprised of esteemed academics, including Simon Fraser University’s Genevieve LeBaron, Ali Bhagat, and Kam Phung. Together, they work in close collaboration with Jessie Brunner, Director of Human Trafficking Research at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford University.

Genevieve LeBaron, professor and director of the School of Public Policy, co-founded the Re:Structure Lab in 2020 with colleagues at Stanford and Yale Universities. Recognized for her award-winning research on forced labour, global supply chain labour standards, business models, and capitalism, LeBaron has fifteen of years experience researching forced labour and designing public and private policy to combat it.

Ali Bhagat, assistant professor at the School of Public Policy, is an international political economist and an expert on refugee/migration policy and racial equity. Bhagat holds extensive research in global displacement and contemporary capitalism.

Kam Phung, assistant professor at the Beedie School of Business, specializes in the relationship between business and society. Phung has in-depth knowledge of the organizational and entrepreneurial foundations of innovation and change, particularly in addressing social and ecological injustices. 

“During this new phase of our work, we hope to focus policymakers’ attention on the root causes of forced labour and on structural solutions that can meaningfully address these issues.”

- Genevieve LeBaron

Restructuring global supply chains

Through their collaborative efforts, the Re:Structure Lab has put forth a set of six Forced Labour Evidence Briefs. These Briefs bring rigorous academic research to bear on illuminating crucial trends and patterns linked to labour exploitation as well as offer recommendations to address the root causes, tackling the problem from the ground up. Spanning from human rights due diligence to social auditing and ethical certification, the Briefs have been influential in public procurement processes, investment tactics, media coverage, procedures put forth by labour and human rights organizations, and policy strategies amongst US and European policymakers.

In a more recent development, these Briefs have coalesced into a unified and comprehensive Blueprint—a compendium shaped by the cross-cutting themes of the Lab’s work to date. The Re:Structure Lab Blueprint serves as a guiding framework, outlining how businesses and governments can work towards realizing fair and equitable labour standards and protecting workers from various forms of forced labour, exploitation, and abuse. 

“Meaningful change will not happen without complementary regulatory and policy change to set up more clear guardrails against violations and meaningful accountability for when it does occur.”

- Genevieve LeBaron

Through direct collaboration with stakeholders, ranging from business students, journalists, policymakers, and investors, the Re:Structure Lab seeks to provide guidance on how to utilize the information contained in the Briefs and the Blueprint. Their initiative aims to lay the building blocks for a future where businesses and policymakers have the tools to construct corporations that uphold human rights and prioritize the well-being of the workers and communities in which they function.