“Our model is meant to be flexible and adaptable. That’s why it works.” How Fifty Eight tackles modern slavery
B Corp Fifty Eight works with organisations and workers to tackle modern slavery. Best For The World winners in a staggering three categories (Workers, Customers and Governance), Fifty Eight is a fantastic example of a small enterprise using flexible, resourceful and digital approaches to help those who need it.
By recent estimates, the number of workers in modern slavery is around 50 million. Quintin and Angela Lake founded Fifty Eight in 2011, after several years spent working in sustainability and witnessing the extremes of working conditions around the world.
“We saw more and more companies wanting to understand exploitation and working conditions in their supply chain,” says Quintin. “We wanted to support them in identifying and eliminating exploitation, with the broader aim of helping people find good work, wherever they are.”
To do this, Fifty Eight offers a few key services. For example, it produces in-depth research reports into areas like forced labour and human trafficking, offers bespoke training and consultancy packages for companies to build ethical practices into their supply chains and builds tech platforms to help individuals make good choices when finding work abroad. They work on both sides of the equation: helping businesses like ASOS or The Warehouse Group who seek transparency and traceability in their supply chain and the workers themselves. “Our intention is always: how are we specifically addressing the needs of underserved populations, while finding solutions for the businesses that we work with?” adds Quintin.
Taking a bold, digital approach
Impact is embedded into the heart of the business. While consultancy and training provide sustainable revenue streams, that’s reinvested into digital solutions. The most pertinent example of that is the Just Good Work app. It’s a free interactive mobile app that gives workers and job seekers everything they need to know about living and working abroad in a host of countries. That ranges from essential legal information, such as employment rights or holiday and sick leave, to real stories from others in the same situation to understand what living and working there is really like. It also lets people know how they can raise concerns or seek medical help. Businesses pay a subscription for workers in their supply chain to use the app. “It gives them transparency and visibility of what’s really happening in the supply chain,” says Quintin.
The app is designed to “meet the needs of the worker first,” says Quintin, and was initially inspired from hearing, first hand, about the extremely difficult personal experiences of a Kenyan worker who had moved to Qatar to work. Despite a lack of funding, the wheels started turning. They reached out to Samson, a graduate they knew from a tech accelerator in Uganda called ReFactory. “We knew him and he had friends who had been to the Gulf and experienced those same situations,” says Quintin. “He took it on as a passion project in his spare time.”
Building out a local team
After a year building a pilot version, a company approached Fifty Eight looking for something just like the app for their factory workers in Malaysia. It proved the need was there and offered them a way of generating funds to properly develop it. Samson was hired full-time along with an 8-person development team in Uganda, led by an experienced engineering manager in the UK. That locality was intentional. “We wanted the people developing [the app] to know the nuance of both the reality of the problem we were trying to solve, but also the realities of technology and data use in rural parts of Africa,” Quintin adds. Building a team in Uganda has the added benefit of creating local jobs in a place where workers are highly vulnerable to having to go overseas to find work.
Building the app wasn’t a commercial decision, but an impact-driven one. “It’s the largest part of what we do, but the least paid part,” says Quintin, “but it felt like something we needed to keep pursuing.” It’s fair to say the decision has paid off. Individual companies with specific needs now financially back the content development and adaptation of the app.
Creating feedback loops
One of the core challenges for the business, based in Liverpool, is to find out if the app is working for workers in various corners of the globe (the app is now used in 30 countries). That input is elicited through a variety of methods: from getting feedback from early workers they have kept in touch with, to physically meeting workers on the ground. Of course, the app also provides plenty of data on what workers are engaging with, but the really nuanced stuff comes from one-to-one conversations.
To that end, the real game changer has been the vast grassroots network that Fifty Eight have managed to build out. Indeed those close external relationships are absolutely key to the business’ operations as a whole. “A really critical part of serving underserved populations is having a really clear, constant point of communication,” says Quintin.
Finding local champions
Finding local partners, though, is easier said than done. The business’ main method is to focus on personal relationships: people they know who might have worked there before. They’ve built relationships with faith communities, churches and mosques, local charities, student unions and sport networks. “We always try to find local champions – somebody on the ground who can help day to day. Someone with a similar heart and approach,” says Quintin. In one case, the business received a one sentence message from an unlikely source. “It just said, ‘I’m an Anglican priest in Doha. Can we talk?’” laughs Quintin. He’s since been instrumental in keeping the business connected to workers in that region. Whether it’s through chance reach outs like that, personal connections, or methodical research, local connections vary from place to place. That’s something Quintin is keen to highlight. “Our model is meant to be flexible and adaptable, and that’s why it works.”
A digital launchpad
Since creating Just Good Work, Fifty Eight have gone on to develop other digital platforms, including an app for training frontline modern slavery workers (MEL) and a standalone platform for Indonesian fisherman going to Taiwan, in collaboration with Stanford University. Given the size of the modern slavery problem, though, knowing where to focus their efforts is a constant challenge. There’s a board of five who steer the company, but Quintin says that the decision-making process is spread across the 23-person team. “It’s about trying to see the bigger picture around modern slavery. That’s what we do with the apps – does this help genuinely with the bigger picture of what’s going on?”
Fifty Eight’s B Corp lessons
1. It’s not as scary as it seems
Quintin admits one thing that initially put the business off getting a B Corp Certification was how the guidance seemed aimed at large corporations and would be a big burden for their small team to take on. “We were worried about how long it was going to take to do legal requirements, like embedding our articles of association. But in the end, that was actually the quickest and easiest part. Some of what was described in the process felt a bit scary, but it wasn’t at all.”
2. It’s given the team validation of their work
One of the biggest benefits has been the fact that it’s shown the whole team they’re talking the talk and walking the walk. “It’s been a real encouragement to the whole team internally. Saying: we’re doing the things we want to be doing,” says Quintin. It’s also given them motivation on what to work on. “It highlighted lots of areas where we can still do lots more, specifically around the environment,” Quintin adds.
3. It’s sparked community connections
“We’re based in Liverpool, and there’s a growing B Corp community here,” says Quintin. “We’ve found that having such a high scoring B Corp locally has been really encouraging for business here. Saying: you can be a small business or social enterprise and have a really positive impact.” Along with strengthening local bonds, a design agency also came across Fifty Eight because of their certification. “We got talking and they loved our approach. They’ve actually become really good partners for design – and we wouldn’t have found them had we not gone through the B Corp process.”