When working on a project, we need to verify the sources and components of all building materials. The complexity of the supply chain, coupled with the lack of an oversight entity that can verify and certify all materials are slave-free, presents challenges for accuracy. While we recognize more work needs to be done, we must use the certifications we have now to help ensure we take steps toward a clean, ethical building materials supply chain.
Many certifications that are seen as trustworthy by consumers are in their standards and auditing practices highly concentrated on ecological concerns, with auditors from environmental sciences or forestry backgrounds. Such efforts were not built with the conditions of the workers front of mind. For instance, certified timber companies that successfully replant to their targets have only recently begun to face scrutiny for the enslavement of guest workers who are reforesting after harvest.
Whether certifications are good, bad, or neutral is not even a discussion to be had when dealing with the built environment. There are no certifying bodies, and if a certification touches on the construction industry, it is often tangential and likely not focused on forced labor. However, there are certifications for specific materials that can provide a starting point.
Our supply chain transparency resources and reporting mechanisms are a starting point for obtaining insights into one’s supply chains.
Much of the knowledge base around slave-made goods has been at the commodities level, as evidenced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual report or the Verité Forced Labor Commodity Atlas. Researchers are beginning to then apply those broad commodities classifications to the resulting manufactured items and to analyze the sectors that use them. Cost, time, and distance argue for starting with targeted analysis, homing in on workplaces and industries with strong correlation to forced labor.
Key risk factors for human trafficking align closely with the construction, engineering, and architecture professions, an alignment that has first been recognized in on-site practices, especially in projects that involve large numbers of temporary, transient, international labor. But even more unseen are the workers who are involved in crushing the gravel, mining or smelting the minerals, or harvesting the fiber that will go into a project.