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LaborVoices – Your Supply Chain, in Real Time, From the Inside

January 24, 2013 • Arch Grant News

We help you see supply chains from the inside out — hopefully saving lives in the process. See, in just the last few months, there were several major factory fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh — fires where workers burned to death because management kept the fire escapes locked. You might never have heard about them, except Labor Voicesthat those factories produce for companies that we buy every day — Walmart, Disney, Gap, Sears and others. Just as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire launched the 20th century US labor movement, these fires are launching the 21st century wave of accountability, helped along by LaborVoices.

As I type, companies are scrambling to fix problems in their supply chains — problems that range from wage theft and verbal abuse all the way to suicides, child labor and outright human trafficking. On top of this humanitarian crisis, companies that experience supply chain disruptions will see an average of 40% underperformance, compared to their peers. For the top 25 global supply chains, this is a nearly $1.2T risk. Until now, these companies have relied on snapshot inspections to find and correct problems — a process that’s deeply flawed. One of those Pakistani factories was given a clean bill of health just weeks before it burned down. Companies didn’t even know their product was being made in the Bangladesh factory.

A few years back, I was a recovering physicist, working as a visiting scientist in the State Department’s human rights bureau. I noticed that these same workers have mobile phones, and that companies were wasting good money on inspections and certifications. I wondered why we didn’t turn to workers in the first place, via their mobile phones, to gather information continuously, in real time, directly from the factory floor? Upon leaving government service, LaborVoices was born.

We envision a world where all workers have access to fair working conditions and are free to choose decent work. Communication and transparency are key to realizing this vision.

We’ve built the LaborVoices Network to connect with workers anywhere in the world, via their mobile phones. We provide information to workers on their rights in the workplace, on organizations who can advocate on their behalf, and on programs and services they need to better their own lives. We ask workers about their working conditions, and provide them with a safe harbor where they can lodge complaints and simply share their experiences.

And what do we do with all this worker-based information? We convert it into intelligence — aggregated across factories, regions and industry sectors and analyzed for trends and patterns. This intelligence is what purchasing companies, supplier factories, labor rights organizations, workers and consumers need to take effective action.

We’ve gotten a lot of support from Arch Grants, since last year. Of course, the grant itself was a huge help. We’ve also used legal, accounting and marketing support, as well as office space at T-Rex in downtown St. Louis.

Since the Arch Grants award, we’ve been recognized all over the place. We got invited to the Clinton Global Initiative, and were written up in BloombergBusinessweek and the Wall Street Journal. We were even a semi-finalist for the Echoing Green Fellowship.

We’ve built out infrastructure and operations in India, China, and Bangladesh — specifically focusing on factory fire safety, there. We’ve also spun out a 501c3 fiscally-sponsored division to focus on purely humanitarian work, beyond supply chains.

A bit of advice to budding entrepreneurs: Think big. Life is too short to waste on small ideas.

And one more thing: It will take longer than you think.

Kohl Gill

Kohl Gill 
Founder and CEO
Labor Voices