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How Many Slaves Made Your Stuff? It’s Now Easier For Companies To Discover The Truth

Supply chains are complicated. This new software helps determine where there might be hidden issues.

How Many Slaves Made Your Stuff? It’s Now Easier For Companies To Discover The Truth
[Illustration: donatas1205 via Shutterstock]

Unless you live in a cave with no possessions, you own products made with slave labor. Keeping slaves out of today’s complex supply chains is harder than you might think, and many companies fail to do it. According to Slavery Footprint, a website from Made in a Free World that calculates how many slaves “work for you” based on the items you own, 101 slaves were involved in making my daily existence possible.

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Made in a Free World launched Slavery Footprint in 2011. Since then, the organization has turned its work towards solutions, launching FRDM (Forced labor Risk Determination & Mitigation), a piece of supply chain management software that helps companies figure out “hot spots” in their supply chains where slave labor may be present. In December, Made in a Free World announced that it has been testing FRDM with nine companies.

For its first set of users, Made in a Free World chose to focus on consumer-facing companies selling gift items (they were announced before Christmas). The companies include LSTN Headphones, Senda Athletics, Worthy Granola, Public Bikes, and Yellow Leaf Hammocks. Some of the companies have supply chains that are more complex than others; Yellow Leaf has a fairly straightforward one at the moment.

“We’re in a stage now where we’re beginning to grow our product line, working with over 200 weavers and scaling to create 1,000 jobs. As we do that, there will be a lot of complexity around sourcing different materials, and asking questions of our suppliers. The FRDM software allows us to ask the right questions and challenge who we’re working with,” says Joe Demin, cofounder of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

When companies first log into the FRDM software, they fill out a basic profile about their spending, industry, and basic supply chain practices, like how workers are paid and whether anyone under 17 is employed. Then they enter the more detailed information on purchases and supplier locations.

By breaking down purchases into individual components, FRDM can figure out where they’re most likely sourced and the likelihood that it’s coming from an area at high risk for slavery. A supplier in Croatia, for example, might get its cotton from a high-risk country like Turkey. Once a company knows that, they know to confront their supplier to find about more about its labor practices.

FRDM can also offer recommendations for goals over time and analyze risk versus how much a company is spending on a certain supplier. If they’re spending a lot, it might make sense to invest in the supplier and help them improve. If not, it’s easier to ditch them.


Yellow Leaf, for its part, employs a number of weavers who had previously been in slavery. For now, the small company is confident in its supply chain, but it’s using FRDM to plan for future growth. “The tool is framing the way we evaluate suppliers. We started with handwoven hammocks, and now we’re growing as a more product-driven company. We want to replicate what we’ve done with culinary products, and in the home and outdoor space. It’s been scary for us to step away from what we’re comfortable with,” says Demin.

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“Just like a lot of consumers, we had spent a lot of time thinking about the environmental footprint of our raw materials. We hadn’t really thought through what the supply chain looked like before we get to that point,” adds Rachel Connors, cofounder of Yellow Leaf.

Even as Yellow Leaf scales up, it will remain a relatively small company. None of the companies testing out FRDM are huge. The platform can be theoretically used with any size company, but in some cases (see: Intel’s commitment to removing conflict minerals from its supply chain), it makes sense to just go out and audit suppliers in person. That requires more money than small do-gooder startups have to spare.

“Audits are the gold standard, but there’s not a lot of gold to spend on audits,” says Justin Dillon, the founder and CEO of Made in a Free World. “We want to get better data to help the entire industry.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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