There is a lot of green building going on at BREEAM USA from a pilot program for BREEAM In-Use with multifamily properties to the certification of the first BREEAM USA In-Use office tower, but what is no doubt most impactful is the BRE Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard enabling businesses to commit to eliminating any possibility of modern slavery or human trafficking in their supply chain.

Slavery in construction is not new, but this is not about the slaves who built the Egyptian pyramids in the Middle Kingdom period of 2600 BC.

Today more than 35.8 million people are victims of forced labor around the globe according to estimates by the British government; more than there have been at any time in history. (That shockingly large number does not include forced prison labor, including for example the widely reported Chinese prison labor-derived nails that entered the United States.)

“To truly regard sustainable buildings in a holistic manner, it’s our obligation to start with the supply chain serving the construction industry,” says Barry Giles, CEO of BRE America.  “BRE is at the cutting edge of transforming buildings for the future and in creating the Ethical Labor Sourcing Standard, BRE shines at the forefront of sustainability by acting beyond reproach in all aspects of the built environment and genuinely building a better world together.”

The BRE Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard is not simply an intellectual exercise. This law firm has worked with businesses, non real estate and real estate alike, in their disclosures required by the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 of their “efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from [their] direct supply chain for tangible goods offered for sale.” The new Standard will provide third party benchmarks that all companies, including those in the green buildinethical laborg industrial complex can rely upon when complying with the California law and when simply striving to do the right thing.

While there is no single or widely accepted definition of Environmental, Social and Governance, matters of slavery should be disclosed. Ethical labor is becoming widely considered and articulated in ESG disclosures by clients of this firm.

The BRE Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard can be seen as responding to Great Britain’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, which sets a basic benchmark for ethical business practice in the sourcing of labour and contains significant measures aimed at preventing forced labour and human trafficking. In particular the Act:

Defines clearly the offences of forced labour and trafficking and how others might be considered complicit in these forms of exploitation; and

Establishes reporting requirements for companies relating to efforts to combat forced labour and trafficking – including specific reporting requirements aimed at achieving transparency in the supply chain, not just the UK based business.

Moreover, the new Standard will have direct application with the enactment of the Commonwealth of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced to the Australian Parliament at the end of June, and follows enactment of the New South Wales Government’s Modern Slavery Act 2018.

These modern enactments by government are only a small step. The ideal of social equity can be traced back to the works of Aristotle and while definitions vary and have evolved over thousands of year, most would agree humanity has not done enough, including that despite purporting to address social equity as one third of the sustainability triple bottom line, today’s green building standards have failed miserably in responding to issues of modern slavery on construction sites and building material supply chains.

The largest study of the typology of modern slavery in the U.S. found construction as one of the top 25 industries where slavery takes place today.

Green building has never emphasized the social equity component of the triple bottom line. In response to criticism of that deafening silence in the ratings systems, there is a LEED pilot credit available for Social Equity within the Supply Chain, informed by the BIFMA e3 furniture sustainability standard, although it is rarely pursued, that addresses workers who are involved in the production of materials and products used in the project. Some suggest the pilot credit is an afterthought that attempts to do too much when it not only requires “no child/ forced/ bonded labor” but also “harassment and grievance procedures” and “anti-corruption and bribery” that are simply uniquely American values not practical most places in the world.

The BRE Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard enables a company to examine and assess its own business practices and then if it desires to demonstrate to customers and other stakeholders the company’s commitment to eliminating ant possibility of modern slavery or human trafficking. The Standard provides a framework that is available free of charge. If a company determines, it can then showcase their ethical sourcing credentials after gaining third party Ethical Labour Sourcing verification from BRE Global.

Slavery has existed since ancient times and despite having been outlawed in nearly all countries, contemporary slavery exists. There is no morally defensible reason for not doing everything in our power to end modern slavery. We must examine and assess our own business practices now.