Free Enterprise Staff  | January 19, 2016

Meet the startup battling modern-day slavery

London-based startup Segura Systems is battling sweatshops in an unusual way. Not with billboard campaigns, fundraising initiatives or even celebrity spokespeople, but instead with a supply verification application that confirms the companies used for overseas manufacturing are on approved lists.

The benefit for businesses is two-fold. First, it helps them access detailed information about their suppliers and keep their records up to date. Second, it provides much-needed information that a growing number of consumers are interested in. “In recent years consumers have begun to ask more of their retailers – people want to know that the goods they’re buying have been ethically and responsibly produced,” says co-founder Ian Hepworth. “There has also been a clear and necessary realization that problems such as modern slavery are very real, posing both a severe supply chain risk and a wider ethical risk.”

Ian Hepworth[2]

The company, co-founded by Hepworth and Peter Needle, started in 2011 and makes complex overseas supply chains more transparent and acts as an extra check to ensure workers aren’t being exploited.

For instance, if a retailer wanted to outsource work for a new clothing line in Vietnam, its contractors in the chosen country would have to verify that it was using approved vendors at every step of the supply chain via Segura. Using the system, the contractor would verify the names and addresses of each company, factory, sub-contractor and/or distributor in sequence to make sure they are approved. The process gives retailers the ability to constantly review the manufacturers they’re working with on an ongoing basis.

The retailer would also be notified if manufacturers use contractors not on their approved list and if goods aren’t delivered to the right suppliers on time using its tracking system. Supply plans can cost as little as £500 ($714), says Hepworth.

The real coup for businesses that use the system is the ability to see if and/or when contractors outsource any work to unsavory sub-contractors, which sometimes happens but isn’t always disclosed to retailers up front.

Fast fashion is an obvious industry that would benefit from the company’s technology. Mainstream retailers grabbed international headlines when a Bangladesh factory collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,000 garment workers who stitched clothing for some of high street’s most recognizable retailers, such as H&M, Mango and the Gap.

The disaster generated outrage and protests around the globe over factory working conditions and employee rights. In the end, it propelled more businesses to seek out ethical manufactures for their overseas needs and pushed businesses like Segura to the forefront.

This year could see the company expand its reach even further after raising £2 million ($2.85 million) in backing from venture capital firm Octopus Ventures. “Our goals for 2016 and beyond are to expand our team, further develop our technology and work with even more businesses and organizations,” Hepworth says. “As well as retail we’ll be looking to focus on the construction and automotive industries.”