2012 Interview with Kohl Gill from LaborVoices
“LaborVoices is a scalable, crowdsourced alternative to conventional inspection-based certification models. We source actionable, real-time intelligence on employers around the world from the real experts—the workers, themselves.” – Kohl Gill, LaborVoices
LaborVoices won the 2012 William James Foundation Telecommunications Prize and the Provoc In-Kind Prize. LaborVoices crowdsources worker opinions by connecting mobile workers via an easily scalable and highly replicable voice and SMS platform. They bring transparency to labor networks and provide brands with a real-time supply chain monitoring tool. The WJF’s Erin Jones recently spoke with Kohl Gill about LaborVoices and their unique model.
Where are you located?
We are located in Sunnyvale, CA.
What problem are you trying to solve?
LaborVoices envisions a world without human trafficking, where all workers have access to fair working conditions. Today, leading brands offshore manufacturing to low-cost global facilities. Fueling these supply chains, highly vulnerable populations of workers suffer egregious abuses like wage theft, harassment, child labor and human trafficking. Brands have implemented complex audit inspections, yet labor violations persist.
How did you become interested in this problem?
I have a technology background, and have been a transparency nut since my volunteer stint as an anti-corruption paralegal in the Delhi slum areas. I found my way into the U.S. State Department, where I covered international labor affairs and corporate social responsibility. I noticed that workers had mobile phones, and that multinational brands had no real transparency into their supply chains. I put the ideas together into a proposal and tried to get the U.S. government to fund a consortium to execute it. I failed. Then I came out to the San Francisco Bay Area and got a lot of encouragement to start a company around the concept.
What is your solution to the problem?
Our unique for-profit model uses market forces to bring about sustainable improvements in working conditions for Base of Pyramid workers. LaborVoices is a scalable, crowdsourced alternative to conventional inspection-based certification models. We source actionable, real-time intelligence on employers around the world from the real experts—the workers, themselves. We market early intelligence directly to brand customers for a limited time, providing an opportunity for corrective action and risk-reduction. We publish older intelligence so consumers can vote with their dollars, and workers can vote with their feet, to support best-in-class supply chains. In partnership with strong local organizations, we create audio portals that educate and inform workers on their rights and local programs such as legal, health, financial and vocational services. We provide a secure, accurate, real-time accounting of labor conditions directly from workers.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are Fortune 500 consumer-facing brands.
What are some of your major challenges?
We struggle with attracting part-time software development talent to contribute to our strong social mission, in particular.
How many people do you employ?
We employ 10 people right now.
What are your annual revenues?
Between $10k and $100k
Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?
The WJF competition was very helpful in providing feedback and guidance during the application process. We’ve not yet availed ourselves of the in-kind “prizes”, but that will also likely be very helpful.
What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?
The Hub network of co-working spaces has been extremely helpful. We were a Hub Ventures company, which helped tighten up our social pitch.
The St. Louis Arch Grants competition was also terribly helpful, in helping us fine tune our financial pitch and providing start-up capital.
I like to read articles from the Startup Digest e-newsletter.
For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them?
LaborVoices.com, @LaborVoices on Twitter