280 – Shifting the Supply Chain Burden, with Justin Dillon

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Sandie is joined by Justin Dillon to discuss new legislation that will address known forced labor in supply chains. They look at how companies can become aware and map their supply chain, various tools available on the market, and the need for a balance between educating and incentivizing corporations.

Justin Dillon

Justin is an entrepreneur, author, and artist. He founded the enterprise software company FRDM, with a mission of changing the world through the power of our purchases. FRDM is a business platform used by Fortune 500 companies to measure and mitigate risk of forced labor in supply chains. Justin is also the Founder and CEO of Made In A Free World, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending forced labor, human trafficking, and modern-day slavery through increased public awareness, action and advocacy. He is author of A Selfish Plan to Change the World (2017) which reveals the secret to a life of deep and lasting significance: the discovery that our need for meaning is inextricably linked to the needs of the world. Justin made his directorial debut in the film Call + Response, which revealed the world’s 27 million dirtiest secrets: there are more slaves today than ever before in human history. The “rockumentary” was theatrically released around the world and became one of the top documentaries of 2008. Justin founded the nonprofit organization Slavery Footprint. Partnering with the U.S. State Department and Google, they launched a multiple-award-winning website that asks the question, “How Many Slaves Work For You?” The website and mobile app allow consumers to visualize how their consumption habits are connected to modern-day slavery. Justin has worked in technology and human rights for ten years, advising the United Nations, White House, and several Fortune 100 companies on supply chain transparency and the purpose economy.

Key Points

  • People want to do good with lives, so for advocates, its about how to get more people involved and aware.
  • Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) “imposes various restrictions related to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region, including by prohibiting certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations there.”
  • Transparency in supply chains can solves problems, other than forced labor, such as environmental climate change problems and operational problems.
  • The Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force (FLETF) will implement a cycle of monitoring and evaluating work being done by corporations to adapt to the UFLPA bill. 
  • It is important that buyer work with their suppliers to improve their supply chain and create incentives for supplies to be transparent.
  • As a movement, remember to celebrate the wins.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 280, Shifting the Supply Chain Burden, with Justin Dillon.

Production Credits [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. We’ve had so many conversations over the years, Sandie, about so many aspects of trafficking and how we can really make a difference on ending it. And as we have referenced a number of times, the importance of supply chain and thinking about this and what organizations are doing so much opportunity for us to influence the world in a better way. And so glad today to have someone who absolutely has been a leader in this way who will help us to learn more and discover what we can do, and also to understand some of the perspective of at scale, how we can really move the needle on ending human trafficking. I’m so pleased to welcome Justin Dillon to the show. Justin is an entrepreneur, author, and artist. He founded the enterprise software company FRDM with a mission of changing the world through the power of our purchases. FRDM is a business platform used by Fortune 500 companies to measure and mitigate risk of forced labor in supply chains. He made his directorial debut in the film Call and Response, one of the top documentaries of 2008. He also founded the nonprofit organization Slavery Footprint, partnering with the U.S. State Department and Google. They launched a multiple award winning website that asks the question, “How many slaves work for you?” The website and mobile app allow consumers to visualize how their consumption habits are connected to modern day slavery. Justin, what a pleasure to have you on the show.

Justin [00:02:10] Thanks for having me on.

Sandie [00:02:11] So, Justin, I met you at a prescreening of Call and Response more than a decade ago. Yeah, that’s a long time ago, huh? And it has been just amazing to follow your transition from really a musician to becoming a significant advocate in combating human trafficking. And particularly unbelievable that now you are one of the leading procurement and compliancy advocates in this new era of attention on supply chain transparency. So can you kind of just tell us how you metamorphosized, that’s probably not even a word. How did that happen?

Justin [00:03:06] Well, not a lot of people know this. It’s a really common career path to, you know, be a musician, count to four and rhyme for a living to go into procurement and compliance. A lot of people do it.

Sandie [00:03:17] Okay. Yeah.

Justin [00:03:19] I have no idea. Well, I do have an idea how I get there, because I can read the notes from the last ten years of my life. But I think that, you know, the thing I do now, the thing that I wake up every morning is I run a software company called FRDM, which, you know, large companies use, and governments and companies like Coca-Cola and Boeing and, you know, the government of Canada and most of the universities in Australia, mining companies, you name it. They use our software to map their supply chain and then they use that intelligence to work with their suppliers, basically to make sure that there isn’t any slavery, which is a never ending journey. It’s very seldom happening with their direct supplier, so it’s usually happening deeper in the supply chain. So we built technology to help them map it and how did I get here? Well, to work backwards when Slavery Footprint came out ten years ago, which is hard to believe, the intention of that project, which for your listeners is a website, still a website its not even an app that tells you how old it is. It was just a website that asked the question, Do you want to know how many slaves work for you? And behind that question was a survey, the lifestyle survey, which asked essentially what you buy, not who you buy from, because it’s not really important. It’s like what you buy, you know, it’s essentially just an inventory of your life. And what’s behind those questions was deep analytics and algorithms and databases that me and a team here in California figured out how to determine the likelihood of forced labor in any given product from diapers to refrigerators. And so at the end of that survey, it would give you a very simple number. I’m not a big fan of complexity. And so I actually believe part of the job of the artist and the entrepreneur and the activist is to take very, very complex ideas and make them really simple so that everyone can participate. So when we built Slavery Footprint, it was how can we give everyone a number they’ll never forget? And so at the end of that survey, you get a number that tells you how many slaves it takes to produce your lifestyle. I think mine the last time I took it was 42. And by the way, it’s you know, unfortunately, when you put a number in front of everyone and people start doing comparisons and there actually is no winning number and there’s and there’s no such and no one gets a zero. So to that degree, it just it gives you, I don’t know. I think the idea there was to give consumers a moment and I actually believe that movements are built on moments. And we wanted to provide moments for consumers that kind of give them a sense of like, hey, I’m kind of part of this, too. And the thing that I’ve learned, Sandie, is that most people want to do good. Most people want to do good with their lives, but they are trapped inside of a finite system of income and time. And those come first. You’ve only got so much time in life and so much, so much opportunity to make an income. And you have to take care of those that you’ve been appointed to, whether it’s family or community. But we just want to give people just a just a just a dose of dissonance, just a little taste of irritation that would then allow them to maybe take some action. And we didn’t, we committed that we’re not gonna raise money off of this. We’re not gonna, we just want to create data. We want to and really, maybe we’ll be wrong, maybe no one will care. I mean, I remember being in the Sheraton Ballroom in New York City, you know, and we’re making the announcement with the State Department. We made the announcement, the website went live and we made the promise, like, hey, a year from now on this day, we’re going to come back here and there’s going to be 150,000 people that have that know their slavery footprint. And, by the way, that date is also going to be the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. And so our whole thing is like, let’s see if we can tie in 150th anniversary to 150,000 people in the United States who know their slavery footprint. And we made that announcement, turn the website on, and it broke in an hour because over a million people had used it in the first hour. So we reached our year goal in like 15 minutes. And what it told us was people do want to know. People don’t want to run away from this.

Sandie [00:07:54] Our Vanguard students continue to use it. They’ve been using it since it came out. I know the last time I did my evaluation I had 26 was my number and I really promote this as a way to become more self aware. But here in California, we passed a Supply Chain Transparency Act in 2010 and the community around anti-trafficking, they were very eager to be able to advocate with companies. But here was the problem. I, as soon as that passed, I’m about to order canvas bags for my annual Ensure Justice conference and I call the company because they are required and on their website they don’t have anything about the supply chain for those cotton bags. So, I called them. I said, so do you know, does the cotton come from Uzbekistan or, you know? And they sent me up the line and there was no corporate will to answer that question. And eventually they said, lady, that and that. This is what they said. They didn’t say Dr. Morgan. They said, Lady, we have a zero tolerance policy to slavery. That’s the best we can give you. And it wasn’t enough and we didn’t order the bags. But that didn’t change their model at all. And over the years in this podcast, we’ve interviewed California state leaders like Ben Greer, Australia, John McCarthy, ambassador at large, John Richmond, Matt Friedman in Asia, and Ben Skinner all working on this. And when I saw your approach to the newly signed law of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, that’s kind of a mouthful. I do love your approach that makes things accessible. So tell us how you see this unbelievable new legislation as a tool in our movement.

Justin [00:10:11] It’s easy to look at an act that’s passed, whether it’s California act to this and look at it with suspicion going, it’s not going to be enough. Of course it’s not going to be enough. There’s no one act. How many acts got passed in the 60s that are still not enough? Were they something? Did they move the ball forward? Yeah. Did it finish it? No. We’re in an infinite game. Justice is an infinite game. It’s not a finite game. There’s no points. It is an infinite game that requires us to continue to show up. And you cannot find purpose for your life in a finite game. You can only find it in an infinite game. Justice will never not be something we pursue. And so these acts are chapters and there is a cadence and there is a velocity and an amplitude every time a new act gets passed. And tomorrow’s a big day for that. But what happened from slavery footprint? And I’ll get to I’ll get to what we do today and I’ll move quickly. That created a tremendous amount of political will. You know, 10 million, 15 million, 20 million people using Slavery Footprint was a big part of why President Obama then focused on slavery at his annual address at the Clinton Global Initiative on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and then encouraged citizens to go take their cyber footprints and then followed that up because there was political will. So this is this is the game. The game with business is dollars. The game of politics is numbers. Those are the rules. If you don’t play inside those rules, you’re not going to win anything. You’re not going to get anywhere. And the game of politics is building enough constituent will. Which, believe it or not, a little website that Google and State Department created create enough political will to then close a loophole in a tariff act from the 30s that allowed for the importation of slave made goods if we couldn’t produce it domestically. Well, just closing a loophole, which, by the way, when the White House said they’re going to do that, plenty of eyes roll. That’s like, what will that do? Oh, well, what that does is it it creates a mandate for Customs and Border Protection to start creating these things called withhold and release orders, which allows them to block the shipment of goods. Tens and tens of millions of dollars worth of goods have been blocked already. This has been going on. What drives me crazy about this movement is it’s great at critique and it’s terrible in celebration. That is something to celebrate. Sure, you can roll your eyes at every act as they go and eyes will be rolled tomorrow. But it is a line drawn in the sand, in an infinite game that points towards justice. And it’s so important that we remember these things, we celebrate them as they happen. Goods have been blocked. That’s playing a numbers game. That’s not an activist game. That’s a market game. And it’s a game that has to be played.

Sandie [00:13:07] So what is in the legislation?

Justin [00:13:11] Yeah, so the legislation is quite broad and it’s saying that essentially U.S. companies cannot import anything from Xinjiang, which is a region in northwestern China, that has been proven to be using forced labor. Several countries are classifying it as genocide, prison labor. It’s minority Muslims known as Uyghurs that are put into what’s called reeducation camps. There’s lots of information out there. It’s very, very difficult to read. The conditions are absolutely horrible. And essentially it’s prison labor producing things like photovoltaic cells and PVC and cotton and tomato sauce. So, President Biden put this act to play at the end of last year and now it goes into effect where the Customs and Border Protection can and I believe will, based on what I’ve heard from them, block shipments of anything that they suspect coming from that region. Now, here’s the catch. If you’re a company importing into the U.S., regardless of size, it doesn’t matter, and you don’t have transparency in your supply chain you’re going to want to get it because that’s going to ensure an operational excellence. It ensures that your shipments don’t get blocked. That can have a huge impact on a company’s operations. So it is a little bit of guilty until proven innocent. But I actually believe it’s more about a safer way to say that it’s like concerned until proven transparent. So we’ve been kind of fighting this fight for the last five years of four years of FRDM going, transparency in supply chain solves enormous amounts of problems, not just forced labor. It solves environmental climate change problems because 70% of emissions are trapped in supply chains. It solves operational problems like we’re seeing around grain not getting out of the Ukraine and finding its way in North Africa. There’s tons of benefits that supply chain transparency can solve. That’s the fight that we’re in. We actually believe if we solve an operational risk, we can also solve a social and planetary risk. So what this act is doing is just confirming the thesis of our company that supply chain transparency is no longer a luxury or a nice to have. Zero tolerance policies mean exactly what that number amounts to. Zero. If you do not put action behind your policies, companies are at risk of even some costs.

Sandie [00:15:48] So to implement this, we have a new acronym, FLETF, the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force. Who are they and how will that cycle of evaluation, monitoring and evaluating work to adapt as our corporate world adjusts to this new reality?

Justin [00:16:15] You know, it’s hard to know how, I mean, there’s definitely guidance and best practices that they’re putting out in terms of how they’re going to enforce this. But what we’re advising our clients is having a mapped supply chain, essentially being on your toes instead of on your heels when it comes to supply chain transparency. Understand where things are coming from. Run analysis not just on your first year, but second and third tier. Identify sanctioned suppliers and entities that they’ve identified. We’re able to do that for our customers and say, Hey, by the way, you know, your first two suppliers might sound great, but they’re doing business with this particular company and this company has been banned. Just running a high level analysis on your supply chain is incredibly important. And that’s just not an activity companies have done before. This is a new activity. But I would say that it’s one of the best ways to be prepared and be prepared to take action. Be prepared to work with your suppliers. But here’s something that we as a company really stand for. No one does anything because we use the word should. You can’t run around and tell your suppliers that they better do something or else. I mean, in some cases, yes. But the truth is, buyers need to work with their suppliers to improve. It’s the only way we’re going to get there. Otherwise, this is just going to be another act of human rights, ping pong, back and forth. You actually have to create incentives for your suppliers to become more transparent.

Sandie [00:17:43] You remind me of a conversation I had last year with Ben Skinner, who also has been addressing this from a different perspective but same direction. And he really cautioned our listeners to think about educating corporations instead of just penalties. And I feel like that is a wise trajectory as we enter this new season of having a tool that’s pretty much like a hammer, but everything looks like a nail when you’ve got a hammer. And so I’m sure there’s going to be some major adjustments. If you could see down the road a year because you’ve actually been doing this already for a few years, what would you tell us about what to expect when that task force begins to make recommendations for the next iteration?

Justin [00:18:47] Oh, they’re going to be asked they’re going to be recommending the companies map their supply chain. They already are. You have to know. You just have to know who you’re doing business with and who they’re doing business with. That’s what’s required. If you don’t have a line of sight which gets very, very murky, you can’t just do it on the back of a napkin. You actually need to be able to use intelligence to be able to map this. Companies are going to market for supply chain transparency tools. That’s that’s the category that we’re in. So I believe that they’re going to be while they can’t, the task force can’t endorse any tool, any government can’t, they’re going to be looking for the usage of those tools.

Sandie [00:19:23] And what can small business owners do to protect their businesses from withholding orders and things like that?

Justin [00:19:33] Well, they don’t have a lot of power in that. Right. So, I mean, we’re technically a small business and we’re a startup, but like, we don’t we you know, we’re not going to have a lot of influence on our suppliers, but they can let their suppliers know that this is this is something that they’re concerned about and looking for suppliers that are actually paying attention to this. Because if you’re a small business and you’re working with a direct supplier that isn’t paying attention to this, you as a small business are running the risk of having your shipment blocked. By the end of the year, we’re hoping to have a way for small businesses to join FRDM as well and get access to the same tools that these large companies are as well. We’re hoping we can get that going at least by Q1 of next year.

Sandie [00:20:12] All right. What a fascinating conversation. We are going to follow what you’re doing. Stay on top of this. I encourage our listeners to find you. How do they find you on the Internet?

Justin [00:20:29] FRDM.

Sandie [00:20:30] Okay. Thank you so much for being with us today. Do you have a closing remark?

Justin [00:20:38] Oh, yeah. Remember to celebrate progress.

Sandie [00:20:44] So good.

Justin [00:20:45] We can’t wake up every day and just be upset at things. We have to look and celebrate when things go well and getting a law like this passed, celebrate it. Talk about it. We need activists celebrating. We need people that care about these things to go this is a good thing. This is a good thing.

Sandie [00:21:05] All right. On that note, we are celebrating and we are grateful for your leadership all these years. Thank you, Justin Dillon.

Justin [00:21:14] Thank you.

Dave [00:21:15] Justin and Sandie, thank you for this conversation. We’re inviting you to take the next step. Hop online and you can grab a free download of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. This will teach you the five critical areas that Sandie has identified that you should know before joining the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also the best way to find all the links mentioned in today’s conversation. The link to FRDM, Slavery Footprint. So many resources that Justin has highlighted for us. And our podcast is supported also by our patrons. You can become a patron and get access to exclusive content and join a community of advocates around the world who are fighting human trafficking. Just go over to endinghumantrafficking.org, same place, and click on the Patreon link for access to more content, including bonus questions and segments and exclusive resources. Again, endinghumantrafficking.org is where to go. If you’re are already supporting us, thank you so much for your support. Excited to continue to bring you more through our work in partnership with the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University. And we will be back in two weeks with our next conversation. Thank you so much, Sandie.

Sandie [00:22:33] Thanks, Dave.

Dave [00:22:34] Thanks everyone. Take care.

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