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In 2011 Slavery Footprint was launched with support of the US State Department and Google with the goal of raising consumer awareness of how the products they purchase rely on slave labor because the people who produce them are forced to work without pay, under threat of violence, or through other forms of coercion. Since then, more than 32 million people from nearly every country in the world have used the app’s lifestyle survey to understand how their purchases are connected to modern slavery.

With over a decade of data now under its belt, Slavery Footprint now offers visitors a dynamic map displaying consumer demand data spanning a decade and nearly every country in the world. Consumers shared billions of products worth trillions of dollars on Slavery Footprint. They didn’t know it, but their collective consumption power became a form of activism. And if you follow the statistics on the map you will see the world is not the same as it was a decade ago. It’s amazing to watch on the map that while consumers became aware over time, laws were passed, businesses stepped up, awareness was spread, and progress was made. This form of technological activism isn’t new.

Many of the great human rights movements used the technology of their day to expose injustice and unite a movement. Everyday citizens throughout history have connected through the newest technology to raise awareness, build critical mass, and bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. They found a way to demonstrate their vision for the world, and in doing so, changed it.

The abolition movement was gaining momentum in Great Britain around 1783, the same time that the printing press was becoming the mass means of communication. Images could now be printed in newspapers, pamphlets, and books which were the primary sources of information for most people, and the abolitionists understood that they could use these mediums to reach a wider audience and to educate people about the evils of slavery. They produced a vast array of printed materials that were designed to shock, inform, and persuade the public about the need to end slavery.

In 1789 William Wilberforce's "A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade" was published. The pamphlet was a detailed and eloquent condemnation of the slave trade that argued that it was immoral, unchristian, and a violation of human rights. Wilberforce's writing was widely read and helped to galvanize support for the abolitionist cause.

Four years later, in 1783, slavery was abolished in England.

The abolition of slavery in the United States was a long and arduous struggle that involved a wide range of individuals and groups. One of the most effective tools in the abolitionist's arsenal was the newly invented telegraph, which was instrumental in spreading information and rallying support for the cause of abolition.  One of the most effective uses of the telegraph was in spreading news of slave rebellions and other acts of resistance against slavery. Abolitionist newspapers, such as William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator, used the telegraph to quickly disseminate their stories and editorials to other newspapers around the country. 

The Selma to Montgomery marches were a series of civil rights protests that took place in 1965 in Alabama, USA, led by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and James Bevel. These leaders understood the power of television to reach a wide audience and raise awareness about their cause. 92% of American households had a television. The civil rights leaders worked closely with television networks to ensure that the events of the marches were captured on camera and broadcast across the nation right around dinnertime.

The widespread coverage brought the issue of voting rights to the forefront of American politics and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned discriminatory voting practices and ensured that African Americans had the right to vote.

We followed the playbook of these incredible movements by using the technology of our day: big data and the Internet. And now over 32 million consumers and counting have connected emotionally and empirically to the fact that their consumption indirectly connects to forced and child labor around the world today. Their collective consumer voice has been seen and heard by political and business leaders who all want the same thing: freedom. Slavery Footprint is now embedded into school curriculum globally, inside museums, and has been used to build the political will to pass laws designed to end slavery in supply chains. 

This technological activism in the form of consumer awareness led to laws getting passed around the world requiring companies monitor their supply chains for forced labor. I was privileged to have a front row seat to this consumer movement.  So in 2016 I started meeting with business leaders to understand what they needed to meet this consumer demand. Most had zero tools to map their supply chains.  And that’s when FRDM (freedom) was born. We’re a business software company helping some of the biggest companies in the world use their supply chains to protect freedom around the world by mapping their supply chain and driving systemic change around the world.

It feels like we are starting over 10 years later. Mapping supply chains will take years. We are seeing progress every day. Consumers inspired FRDM, and now we want to find new ways to work together again to build the world we all want to live in. I hope you will stick around for the next 10 years. Perhaps we’ll have some big things to celebrate along the way!

Justin Dillon

Justin Dillon is the founder and CEO of FRDM, a responsible supply chain company.