Now is the time to include slave-free criteria in our industry code of ethics

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Hayes Slade, AIA, IIDA
Co-Founder and Principal, Slade Architecture
2019 President, AIA NY

The year 2020 created challenges greater than most of us have ever faced. For many, the crisis has focused how our decisions and actions impact our community — and society in general. From social injustice and political absenteeism to public health and safety, we see repeatedly how ripples of individual actions together form a tsunami of societal conditions. In the solitude of quarantine, the interconnectedness becomes clearer, whether concerning environmental or economic resources, justice, or access to healthcare. The common link is that these are all facets of equity.

As an architect and former President of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA NY), I know how our profession yearns to incorporate equity in our practice. For starters, the AIA ethics code requires us to deliver our craft to “enhance and facilitate human dignity and health safety and welfare.”[1] I have seen how seriously most of us in the profession take that mandate. For many, it is the potential for improving the conditions we find ourselves in that drives us to the profession in the first place.

Slavery is the most extreme form of inequity. It is the most extreme violation of human dignity, safety, and welfare.

The design and building professions have successfully confronted inequities before. For example, this year, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Through our concerted effort, consideration of accessibility has become the norm in the built environment. There are improvements to be taken in this regard, but great strides have been made. However, just as we as a profession for too long ignored how people with disabilities experience our designs, the fact that forced labor is still part of our global supply chain is something we need to face and address in every arena in which we act. The indisputable evil of enslavement makes it difficult to understand as a contemporary problem, rather than “comfortably” understanding it as a terrible relic of the past. We must resist that temptation; eradicating forced labor will require maintaining a concerted and focused effort.

As architects, engineers, consultants, and contractors, our decisions and specifications represent tremendous consumption of materials and labor. As members of the groups leading this industry, we have an imperative responsibility to consider the wider social and environmental ramifications of our material choices and specifications.

Throughout our history, we have adapted and adopted evolving standards to improve the health and well-being of society — think about standards for water and waste safety, fire codes, material safety, and more recently, concerns for sustainability and environmental conservation.

Last year, the AIA New York Chapter honored Design for Freedom Working Group founder Sharon Prince with its NYC Visionary Award for helping turn our gaze to the problem of modern slavery in our work. It is particularly appropriate to move on this challenge in this year, in which we celebrate the anniversary of the ADA that fundamentally changed the way we design. We have proven that we are a group that can rise to a challenge of inclusion and equity; it remains to mobilize toward practicing ethical construction with ethically sourced materials, and ethical practices on our job sites.

[1] AIA 2020 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, E.S. 1.5, American Institute of Architects (AIA). 2020.