Design for Freedom by Grace Farms Announces First Building Pilot Project to Raise Awareness of Forced Labor in the Building Materials Supply Chain

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Sharon Prince, CEO and Founder of Grace Farms Foundation and Co-Founder of Design for Freedom by Grace Farms announced today the initiative’s first building pilot project aiming to raise awareness and create actionable steps to remove forced labor from the global construction supply chain.

Design for Freedom is partnering with New Canaan Library on a new state-of-the-art knowledge and learning center, to explore and pursue the use of low-risk materials¾materials less likely to be sourced through forced labor¾during the building’s construction. Throughout the process, Design for Freedom will collaborate with Centerbrook Architects, Turner Construction, and 21 subcontractors to trace raw and composite (engineered from two or more materials) building materials as far as possible within the supply chain. The new library project began construction in late fall 2021.

“The next step in equitable design is examining our building materials supply chain and elevating social sustainability,” said Sharon Prince, CEO and Founder of Grace Farms Foundation. “After learning that the construction industry has for too long gotten a labor transparency pass, the New Canaan Library quickly signed on as the first Design for Freedom building pilot project. Much like Grace Farms, libraries bring communities together and disseminate knowledge, resources, and stimulate conversation. Our collective commitment and shared work will provide key data and research that advances the movement and serves as a replicable and scalable example of what is possible when transparency is brought to the global building materials supply chain.”

Design for Freedom was launched in 2020 by Grace Farms Foundation to bring awareness to the prevalence of forced labor in the building materials supply chain. Globally, laws forbid the use of slave labor in the built environment, yet the materials that go into our buildings are sourced through methods heavily reliant on forced labor.

Forced labor and human trafficking is an estimated $150 billion industry. The illegal use of forced labor across industrial sectors subsidizes corporate profits and has contributed to the expansion of this global industry. This criminal activity affects about 25 million people, mostly from impoverished communities or from areas of conflicts and disasters. Design for Freedom seeks to address this pressing humanitarian crisis by creating a radical paradigm shift to design and build a more humane future.

Subcontractors working on the library construction project are supporting the Design for Freedom initiative by tracing at least one building material back to its sources, including raw materials, in an effort to expose the potential of forced labor in these products. The materials that are being traced have been chosen by Turner Construction and the Design for Freedom team. Some of the materials include mineral wool insulation, countertops, metal roof panels, wood doors, tile, flooring, lighting, vinyl, glass, steel, PVC piping, and CMU Masonry.

Many construction materials are already vetted for sustainability, health, and energy impacts. However, most manufacturers do not currently provide any documentation regarding the ethics of their supply chains. This partnership between Design for Freedom, New Canaan Library, and Turner Construction highlights this deficiency and demands more transparency within the industry.

“As a community-centered platform for learning, we saw this as a natural partnership,” said Lisa Oldham, Executive Director of New Canaan Library. “We sought to build an infrastructure for inquiry and imagination, in a facility that embodies our shared values of environmental and social sustainability.”

Aspects of the pilot project will be included in an exhibition on site at Grace Farms during the construction of the library to help further educate the public about the need to ensure an ethical building materials supply chain.

By joining Design for Freedom, New Canaan Library is accelerating the Design for Freedom movement by raising awareness of this pressing humanitarian issue, becoming the first institution in the U.S. to be a part of a Design for Freedom Pilot Project, further establishing New Canaan as a place of architectural significance and design leadership nationally.