News Brief

Ending Human Exploitation in Building Supply Chains

Building professionals push for ways to ensure “slave-free” buildings.

A diagram lays out eight steps for addressing human exploitation in supply chains.

Grace Farms Foundation Working Group lays out eight steps to avoid products made with forced labor.

Image: Grace Farms Foundation
Almost 95% of the construction materials used to create any given building come from only 400 to 600 raw materials and 75 to 100 composite building products, according to Grace Farms Foundation. Yet supply chains are so vast and convoluted that they can mask many instances of human exploitation: forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor, to name a few. Now, an expanding working group of architects, construction professionals, and human rights experts is building awareness and pushing for more transparency.

The Grace Farms Foundation Architecture + Construction Working Group aims to create guidelines on how to craft anti-slavery language for design briefs, specifications, competition rules, contracts, and construction material audits. The team is beginning by spreading awareness and gathering input at a variety of panels and conferences, including at the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering Congress, and the Yale School of Architecture. In addition, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has begun its own review of material procurement policies and pledges.

Catherine Benoit Norris, who is co-creator of the Social Hotspots Database and is not affiliated with the Working Group, told BuildingGreen, “This seems like the first coherent and comprehensive initiative on the topic.” Benoit believes that forced labor is only one of the many problematic social impacts in building supply chains and therefore believes that this effort only “scratches the surface.” However, she says the process that the Working Group is pursuing is “in line with best practices.”

While the group continues its work, building professionals can do their part by crosschecking the country of origin against the U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor. Some of the construction materials on the list as of 2022 are:

  • bricks
  • copper
  • solar products
  • textiles
  • glass
  • granite
  • gravel
  • tin
  • rubber
  • steel
  • stone

Copper from the Democratic of Congo, for example, is at risk of having been unethically mined by children.

For more information:

Design for Freedom by Grace Farms

Update: We edited this article (which was originally published in 2019) on February 21, 2024 to update multiple details and links.

Originally published October 7, 2019 Reviewed February 21, 2024

Pearson, C. (2024, February 21). Ending Human Exploitation in Building Supply Chains. Retrieved from

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