Brian Smiga and TEDxAsburyPark speaker Krishna Patel talk about“End Slavery with Transparent Supply Chains,” which will be presented at TEDxAsburyPark on May 18, 2019.
The following is an excerpt from the interview. To read and hear the full interview, CLICK HERE
Brian Smiga: Hi Krishna, I’m Brian Smiga of Expert Open. We’re the publishers of TEDxAsburyPark. Welcome to the show.
Krishna Patel: So good to be here.
Brian Smiga: You have a really big talk coming up at TEDxAbsuryPark on May 18, 2019 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park. Your talk is, I think, one of the most pointed in the entire conference, which is looking at the theme of Chaos, and chaos in all kinds of things, sometimes hidden in plain sight. We want to talk about the origin of your idea and why and how it’s really growing in importance. Krishna is going to talk to us about eradicating slavery by making the supply chains of goods transparent. Because America is the largest consumer of slave-made goods in the world–and nobody knows it. Tell us more about this problem and how you discovered it.
Krishna Patel: Contemporary slavery, or modern-day slavery, is the second largest criminal industry in the world after the narcotics industry. And for me, the largest human rights issue of our time. And so much of that criminal industry is due to labor trafficking. And when I talk about labor trafficking, It’s based on our consumption. Every supply chain has a common ingredient, and that is slavery. If I were to give you just one statistic, take a look at the top five slave-made goods that are being imported just by the G20 countries. If you look at just the top five slave-based goods, it’s the equivalent of 354 billion dollars of imported goods for the G20 countries, and of that, the United States imports 144 billion dollars worth of those slave-made goods. We are living in a time where there are more people enslaved than at any other time in the history of the world. And this has become the largest and fastest growing crime, one that, if it continues at its current pace, could actually become the most dominant crime in this world.
Brian Smiga: So, slavery is not just at its peak. There are more slaves on the planet today, I think you’ve said 40 million or more, than ever in world history. But it’s also growing, do I have that right?
Krishna Patel: Yes, it’s the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. The data has been really hard to come by, and so this is the most conservative data that’s been put out there. The International Labor Organization and Walk Free did an amazing job, over a very long period of time, to get the data. At any given time, there are at least 40 million people enslaved. On average, that’s about 5.4 adults per every thousand and 4.4 children per every thousand people in the world.
Brian Smiga: Wow! And 70% of it is labor trafficking, and it’s the production of goods, right?
Krishna Patel: It’s the production of goods, and it is also a crime whose victims are disproportionately women and girls.
Brian Smiga: It must be really gratifying for you, as a public defender and an advocate for immigrants, and others, as a lawyer, to now be moving not to the remedy and justice, but to the cause.
Krishna Patel: It is. So as a former federal prosecutor and a person who did seek justice on behalf of so many of these victims,what is gratifying for me now, for the first time, is to try to look at the root cause, to see if we can actually prevent this problem.
Brian Smiga: Can you just tell our audience how, as a young woman who grew up in New Jersey and got your law degree, this unfolded for you?
Krishna Patel: I became a lawyer. Very early in my career, I became a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, and at the time we were witnessing what was very clearly a form of trafficking, particularly with immigrants. I was born in Kenya and grew up in East Africa, before moving to New Jersey, and understood the plight, very much, of immigrants. We were not able to really prosecute those cases at the time because the laws were not in place for us to do that. Modern-day slavery is a very different type of slavery. It doesn’t require the same level of physical coercion. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act came into place in 2000. It really was a game changer. In the early 2000s we began using the law and noticed, for the first time, that our biggest issue in the United States ended up actually being domestic sex trafficking of minors. I traveled more and more around the world, exporting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and I began to realize that this is a very complicated issue, and what we were seeing around the world was actually labor slavery that was actually driven by our consumption patterns. And so when I left the US Attorney’s office in 2015, I really wanted to focus on how to deal with that particular issue. And realized that slavery is the common ingredient in every commercial supply chain in the world.
Brian Smiga: So, let’s talk about the offending products, what are some of the most popular products that we use everyday in the United States that have slavery in their supply chain?
Krishna Patel: First is technology. Your smartphones, your laptops, and your electric cars. And that’s because of the minerals in those technologies. The second is the garment industry. We are also looking at fish, seafood, cocoa, and sugar cane.
Brian Smiga: Everything we can’t live without.
Krishna Patel: Right. All of those things we consume. The technology is really hard, because the technology is something that we are all using, we can’t seem to live without it. And when you’re looking at the root of that supply chain, the children that are at that root, who are living incredible lives of suffering, and what is happening to those societies in terms of not just slavery but the kind of medical issues, the diseases, the fatalities, the rapes, the conflict… it really is showing us that while our world is becoming more globalized, in parallel, it is more divided. We are not living natural lives any more.
Brian Smiga: I know you’re already winning a lot of advocates and allies with your project. What is the name of your project, and who is the sponsor?
Krishna Patel: The project that we’re proposing is something called Unchain.org. It is an extraordinary campaign. It was initially incubated at the place where I now work, which is called Grace Farms Foundation. It is now its own entity. It was actually created with the brilliant creativity of two advertising companies, they’re Geometry and J. Walter Thompson. And initially, it was meant to be a global awareness campaign but it has become so much more. Unchain, right now, is still in its beta phase, but has a tech counsel. We recognize that technology is the number one slave-made product, but we also understand that technology has to be part of the solution to bring transparency to supply chains. And it’s only when we are able to bring transparency through all of these supply chains, that were going to be able to actually eradicate slavery in those supply chains.
Brian Smiga: You and I have a really difficult task coming up, which is to explain to our audience how blockchain technology can be utilized to make the making of goods and the supply chains of goods transparent. Are we ready to do that, go down that journey?
Krishna Patel: We can try.
Brian Smiga: So this is what Unchain.org and you are doing. It’s developing a very lightweight technology so that a consortium of makers and suppliers can audit and detect slavery in their production. Is that right?
Krishna Patel: Correct. Blockchain is absolutely one of the key technologies. It’s certainly not going to be a silver bullet, but it’s in the basket of all the technologies that one will need to actually push transparency through a supply chain. But we can take blockchain as an example. Let’s take a piece of fish. As an example, we know that, Ghana has high levels of child slavery in the fishing industry. Blockchain is ledgering. If you are able to take the piece of fish from Ghana and if you have the ability (and this is the big IF)… If you have the ability to know that the fish was caught in an ethical manner. There are other different technologies that are being used, cameras with satellites, right now, and you’re able to immediately then take that fish, put some kind of sensor on it, or blockchain it, and then from then on, that piece of fish comes all the way through the supply chain. And you’re able to then ledger it, and take it all the way to your Whole Foods store, or your Fresh Market store, or your ShopRite store in New Jersey and you buy that piece of fish, you can then know it’s ethically sourced.
Brian Smiga: Great example. So we record data, little pieces of data, which include things like photography as well as time stamps, and an official document of origin, and so on. These components of data are placed in a ledger that is immutable and out there on the Web, and can’t be challenged. And this way, the data around the origin of a good, going all the way back to the raw materials, that whole chain of supply can be verified.
Krishna Patel: Correct. And that would include the bill of lading, like everything, what it took to get from Ghana all the way through the various seaports, to the store in New Jersey where you or I purchase it. You can actually see how that piece of fish made it all the way through. And let’s say there was a camera on the boat, showing a fisherman or fisherwoman who had actually caught that fish. And you can actually confirm in a way that that particular individual was not enslaved. Then you know you have good data, right? You have good data that you can actually verify, and put on to the ledger and then from then on you can move that fish all the way through the supply chain, and it’s not actually, in any way, corruptible data.
Brian Smiga: And it sounds like there is going to be, for the right companies, an advantage to making their supply chain transparent, even though they’re going to have to make some changes. How do you get that trend going? How do you get all the suppliers to Apple and Whole Foods Market, and Krogers to begin to participate in this?
Krishna Patel: There are a couple of things going on here. One, and this is not normally where I come down, I’m going to remind everybody that this is a crime. So for any corporation, this is a crime. It is a money laundering crime. There are criminal penalties, there are also civil penalties, and we are starting to see some of that happen. There is litigation that companies are being subjected to. There are reputational risks that really are at stake here, and we’ve certainly seen what happens when there is slavery, that companies are subjected to. More importantly, for the first time, you are also seeing international policing and international standards that are coming. The United Kingdom and Australia have actually put in place fairly robust laws requiring corporations of a certain size to actually report, at a board of directors level, about what they’re doing to investigate their supply chains now. And France, to some degree, has just passed a law as well. You’re seeing a certain trend all through Europe. There are five other countries, including the United States, that have some pretty robust legislation, and they’re considering doing the same thing. If the United States actually passes a law, it’s going to be a game changer for the entire world, and we know that. So you’re seeing some of that go on. There’s also a lot of international policing going on. For the first time, you’re seeing different organizations and groups that are starting to track corporations, and starting to report on them. So all of this, happening at once, is, I think, going to cause a lot of companies to do this. The most important thing though, is that you are starting to see consumer trends in this.
Brian Smiga: I could imagine an index, where products are scored. On one end of the extreme we’ll put a stamp on them that says “slave-made.” And at the other end, would be “slave-free.” Do you think there are going to be any standards for labeling, and/or creating consumer awareness? So consumers can vote here?
Krishna Patel: There’s such a strong desire for consumers to want that. You know, much like we have organic or fair trade… but it’s impossible right now for that to happen, just given the complexity of supply chains. But we do know there’s a demand for it. Every single thing from the data is showing us that no consumer wants to buy a slave-made product, yet slavery is sitting in every supply chain. And so, we are seeing all of these trends happen, and what Unchain is trying to do is bring a lot of transparency and awareness to this, but we’re also seeing a lot of things simultaneously happen. The other thing I will tell you is, we have the beginnings of a lot of concrete data, both academic and international data, that’s now showing that the countries with the worst trafficking also have the worst ecological and environmental problems. The issues of our planet, and the issues of people and how we’re treating the people on our planet are really combined. And we’ve seen such a movement in the environmental arena that these are really going to come together in a big way, but we want to do what’s right, particularly for the children of our planet.
Brian Smiga: So there we have it, where there is parity and a lack of slavery we have other resonating effects and a better world. And so, in closing, what one thing might our audience do to learn more and become an ally to your project?
Krishna Patel: In whatever way they feel comfortable… to engage as a conscious consumer. If it is just converting one product in their lives… but if they feel like they can become even more active, they can certainly tune in to the TEDxAsburyPark talk. And we have five very significant ideas for them to engage in.
Brian Smiga: Great! There we have it, Krishna Patel of Grace Farms and Unchain.org. We’re going to hear more from her on the stage at TEDxAsburyPark on May 18, 2019 at the Paramount Theatre on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. We’re really looking forward to welcoming you back to New Jersey. Krishna, thanks so much!
Krishna Patel: Thank you.
Graphic created by Kel Grant.