Walmart and Disney among backers of $23mn fund to tackle supply chain slavery
A number of blue chips brands, including Walmart and Walt Disney, have backed a new $23mn fund aimed at tackling slave labour and promoting transparency in global supply chains.
The fund has been founded by American foundation, Humanity United, which will work with major corporations and tech start-ups to create ‘Working Capital’, which it says has a vision of building scalable solutions to improve labour practices in the global operations and extended supply chains of multinational corporations.
In addition to Humanity United, partners and supporters in the fund include: Walmart Foundation, C&A Foundation, Stardust Equity, Open Society Foundations (Soros Economic Development Fund), The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund, and The Walt Disney Company.
"There is a growing market demand for more transparent and responsible corporate supply chains," said Ed Marcum, Managing Director at Working Capital. "We see an opportunity to invest in emerging solutions that will meet the demands of large multinational corporations while also benefiting millions of vulnerable workers at the bottom of the economic pyramid."
The fund will also leverage support from the UK's Department for International Development in ‘sidecar’ grant funding for pre-investment and seed-stage interventions.
Led by an experienced team from Humanity United, the Fund has already invested in promising portfolio companies, further demonstrating both the market opportunity for emerging entrepreneurs to develop more innovative solutions, and demand from leading brands to adopt these solutions. Current portfolio companies include:
- Provenance, a technology platform that uses blockchain to enable brands, suppliers, and stakeholders to trace products along their journey from producer to consumer; and
- Ulula, a software and data analytics platform that allows organizations to engage with workers in real time to measure and monitor labour-related risks, creating more responsible global supply chains.
Working Capital said its partners and supporters share the Fund's commitment to reduce worker vulnerability and ensure greater transparency into working conditions.
“Our aim is to use our strengths in collaboration with others to transform the supply chain systems we rely on, and we are proud to be part of the Working Capital group of partners,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, President of the Walmart Foundation.
“We believe in solutions that benefit everyone – from the workers who make the products to the consumers who purchase them, creating a shared value for business and society.”
Japan Seeks to Revive Stalled Semiconductor Industry
Post-pandemic, Japan has seen the consequences of relying solely on foreign imports for its semiconductors. Over 64.2% of its chips are usually imported from South Korea and Taiwan, leaving the country dependent on its neighbours. Industries from auto manufacturers to consumer electronics firms wait for chips, to no avail. But now, the Japanese government looks likely to put real funding behind its semiconductor industry, with top officials emphasising their support.
Domestic supply chains have never been more important. Rather than remain tied to international shipping routes during shortages and delays, governments are doing everything in their power to develop local lines of supply. But the question remains: can Japan pull it off?
How Will Japan Pay For It?
Herein lies our first issue. Japan’s debt has rapidly increased over the past few years, and the semiconductor industry will need roughly a trillion yen—US$9bn—in this fiscal year alone. This cost, however, pales in comparison to what Japan could lose if it fails to keep up with Europe and the US. Both nations have launched aggressive funding measures to revive their local semiconductor industries. And if Japan refuses to invest due to its debt, it could slow down progress in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to autonomous driving.
According to Tetsuro Higashi, the former president of Tokyo Electron and Japan’s top government advisor in semiconductor strategy, ‘If we miss this opportunity now, there may not be another one’. Yet one advanced wafer fabrication factory can cost more than US$10bn, and any money poured into the industry will go fast. That’s why Japan, rather than invest trillions and trillions in failing domestic firms, is considering a second option.
What Do They Plan To Do?
Japan now intends to look abroad and convince overseas chip foundries to come to its shores. Its past failures mostly centred on trying to merge domestic firms that were already going through tough times. ‘This sort of made-in-Japan self-reliance approach hasn’t worked out well’, said Kazumi Nishikawa, a director at the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry’s IT division. ‘This time the goal is to offer a strong incentive for an overseas logic foundry to come to Japan’.
As follows, Japan will now reach out to industry partners and leaders in other countries, including the industry heavyweight Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), to build Japanese bases. According to the South China Morning Post, the heart of Japan’s mission is a US$337.2mn research and development project in Tsukuba that will involve TSMC and more than 20 Japanese firms. ‘I think we need to cooperate with our overseas counterparts’, said Akira Amari, a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. ‘[And] TSMC is the world’s top logic chipmaker’.
Indeed, if that’s Japan’s strategy, the future looks bright. TSMC recently set up a venture near Tokyo to research energy-efficient 3D chips with several Japanese partners. And in the future, the multinational chipmaker may consider expanding its Japanese operations—that is, if government incentives pave the path forward.