This week, we sat down with Jan Saumweber, Senior Vice President of Walmart Responsible Sourcing, and Matthew Swift, Co-Founder, Chairman & CEO of Concordia, to explore the goals of the two organizations' partnership more in-depth.
It’s important that Walmart participate and be present at the table for conversations around the issue of forced labor, given their size and market share. Within the context of the Concordia Summit, Walmart has the opportunity to reach other industries, markets, and companies and provide a successful example of an organization that has taken initiative to use its global presence to address this pressing issue. The goal of Concordia is to ultimately create a trickle-down effect, in a sense, where other major players in the Concordia network can start following in Walmart’s footsteps, join these conversations, and begin changing the global approach to forced labor.
Partnership is the new leadership—we recognize when working collaboratively with others, we’re better positioned to address complex challenges like forced labor. Thoughtful collaboration is beneficial and necessary to accelerate and scale impact. One of the most important things we have learned is that no one person, business or NGO, no matter how big or influential, is going to solve the biggest issues of our time alone. As an example of cross-sector collaboration, International Justice Mission (IJM) and Walmart are working together (alongside many other efforts) with the goal of combating forced labor in the fishing industry in Thailand. A two-year grant of over $2 million from the Walmart Foundation was awarded to International Justice Mission (IJM) in 2016 and is helping IJM to apply casework and criminal analytics to help increase enforcement of existing laws relating to trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. IJM is using the award to establish a field office in Bangkok to implement the program. IJM anticipates that cases will be generated from a combination of initiated investigations and referrals from local civil society and NGOs. We believe IJM’s work will help strengthen the systems in Thailand and create real and sustainable change for the workers in the seafood supply chain.
The challenges we’re trying to tackle in supply chains cross borders and span industries. The risks are often deep in supply chains and involve actors across sectors, including business, government and civil society. These are systemic challenges, where the best solutions require pulling levers of change at several different parts of the system in a coordinated way. This requires collaboration.
Walmart collaborates with other retailers, suppliers, NGOs and governments in many initiatives that are advancing worker safety, combating risks of forced labor and driving other efforts to support the dignity of the women and men working in consumer goods supply chains. We’re very proud of the work we’ve done with NGOs and even competitors. Challenges like forced labor are pre-competitive—we all have a vested interest in combating it. Working together with a range of stakeholders allows us to leverage our respective strengths to achieve more together than we could alone.
Looking at the case of Walmart, one is not able to say that this company can achieve this substantial global impact just through a small team in Bentonville. Rather, approaching these goals through the lens of cross-sector collaboration and strategic partnerships and addressing the systemic flaws that play into this deep-rooted issue has ultimately led Walmart to be successful in achieving real impact. Creating partnerships with different institutions, especially at the local level, is extremely important, and Concordia convenes all of these players in one place to foster this kind of strategic, impactful collaboration.
Collaboration is not only important, but absolutely necessary if we hope to solve the challenges before us. Venues like the Concordia Annual Summit provide a great space for stakeholders to come together and discuss approaches to address complex issues like forced labor. During the Concordia Summit, we convened a roundtable with a range of industry experts to have a candid dialogue on how to accelerate and scale effective collaboration to combat forced labor. We believe creating spaces where stakeholders can share best practices, as well as challenges, is helpful to improve learnings across industries.
Walmart has taken an incredible lead on the issue of forced labor within supply chains worldwide. It’s incredibly substantial for a company as large-scale as Walmart to address this issue, as their supply chain reaches societies, cultures, and countries around the world. My hope is that Walmart’s actions and approach of combating forced labor will set a specific standard for similar retailers. If other organizations follow suit by recognizing and addressing the systemic prevalence of forced labor, forming partnerships, participating in these discussions, and committing themselves to combating forced labor, they can have a truly transformational impact on its eradication.
Collaboration is increasingly seen as key to making an impact. We have been working with other retailers, suppliers and NGOs through the Seafood Task Force to address potential labor abuses and unsustainable fishing practices in both aquaculture and wild-caught fisheries. We also participate as a member of the steering committee for the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, a collaboration between leading companies to make positive change in the way that migrant workers are recruited, including the aim of eradicating fees being charged to workers to secure employment. Walmart also serves as co-chair of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Social Sustainability Committee, which is working to help foster global cooperation on three priority principles to combat the risks of forced labor. By the end of 2026, we want responsible recruitment to be the standard business practice for employers throughout the global supply chain. We look forward to ongoing collaboration with a range of stakeholders to make this a reality.