Consumer Activism and Supply Chain Transparency: Contemporary Anti-slavery Movements in the United Kingdom and United States

In 2019, Gilder Lehrman Center Director David W. Blight was awarded a Faculty Research Grant in International, Regional, and Comparative Studies from the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. This funding supports an oral history project titled “Consumer Activism and Supply Chain Transparency: Contemporary Anti-slavery Movements in the United Kingdom and United States.”

A central issue that has emerged from the Gilder Lehrman Center’s Modern Slavery Working Group and the GLC International Annual Conference: “Fighting Modern Slavery: What Works?” (Nov. 1-3, 2018) is broad agreement that attempts to eradicate the current phenomenon of forced labor must bridge a spectrum of political, economic, and social sectors: governmental labor and migration policy development, legal systems, and enforcement; private industry; workers’ organizations; and a variety of civil society actors. Voluntary ethical certification schemes for private industry have been shown to be insufficient mechanisms for preventing coerced labor. Recent empirical studies have demonstrated that worker-led labor rights movements as well as state regulatory regimes are essential components for creating structural support for fair wages and decent working conditions.

Based on these insights from the Working Group, the Gilder Lehrman Center has undertaken a research project focused on regulatory schemes that seek to address forced labor. This project will begin capturing the history of these efforts through archival research as well as interviews with key actors in the development of anti-slavery supply chain-transparency laws. The project will focus on two of the leading supply chain transparency instruments: the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (implemented in 2012) and the United Kingdom Modern Slavery Act and the Transparency in Supply Chains Clause of 2015.

A central goal of the project is to create an archive of this critical aspect of the modern anti-slavery movement. By collecting oral histories, we will preserve and record the accounts key actors as well as documentary evidence. The interviews will provide a base of historical comparison between producer- and consumer-responsibility advocacy as a tool for antislavery activism, past and present. The oral histories will be kept in a digital archive held at the GLC and available to the public by application for those doing research on the motivations of policymakers and advocates and the effect on businesses, consumers, and workers who are at risk of abuse and other related work.

Research Team 

Project Director: 

  • David W. Blight, GLC Director; Sterling Professor of History, Yale University 

Lead Researchers: 

  • Amb. Luis C.deBaca (ret.), GLC Robina Fellow in Modern Slavery, the MacMillan Center at Yale 
  • Kate Cooney, Senior Lecturer in Social Enterprise and Management, Yale School of Management 

Research Assistants: 

  • Song Kim (MBA, Yale School of Management), Lawyer & Educator focused on Human Rights, Racial and Economic Justice, and Ethical Consumption 
  • Griffin Black (YC 2018), PhD student (American History), Univ. of Cambridge