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The Dark Side of the Global Construction Industry

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Building Materials

The Dark Side of the Global Construction Industry


November 18, 2020
Harvested timber
Photo: Elena

According to a new report by the Grace Farms Foundation, modern slavery is a common piece of the global supply chain. Building materials, such as steel, two-by-fours, and copper are sourced from countries where forced labor and slavery are common practices, says Fast Company. The wood products used on a quaint suburban single-family home, or found in the local Home Depot, could come straight from illegally harvested timber from Russia or China. Unfortunately, this problem has occurred regularly and unknown to those in the design and construction fields. More than 60 industry partners contributed to publishing the report, such as the American Institute of Architects, New York, and the Yale School of Architecture.

Alarmed by the scale of this issue, Prince set out to try to stop these illegal practices by bringing them into the open for the architects, builders, and developers who’ve been their unwitting enablers. More than 60 industry partners joined her to write the new report on forced labor. “This is why there’s such a quick uptake from industry leaders, because no one was able to answer that question of whether or not our buildings are made slave-free once I asked it,” Prince says.

Together with these partners, Grace Farms Foundation has formed Design for Freedom, a movement that’s hoping to bring more transparency to the building supply chain by making the sometimes illegal labor practices behind these materials better known. “It’s not just someone working longer hours—it’s enslavement,” says Prince. “We’re putting out a very concerted effort to make it known, so there’s culpability. Once you know, you can’t un-know it. It’s a different level of responsibility.”

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