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The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Season 4, Episode 6: Matt Friedman - The Fight for Human Rights & Abolishment of Modern Slavery

October 07, 2021  |  By Cindy Moehring

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Matt Friedman, international human trafficking expert and esteemed public speaker, sits down with Cindy Moehring on this episode of The BIS. Friedman discusses his work in combatting modern slavery as the founder and CEO of The Mekong Club, his latest white paper on ESG misconceptions, and how COVID-19 has affected those trapped in modern slavery.

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Episode Transcript:

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0:00:15.9 Cindy Moehring: Hi everybody, welcome back to another episode of The BIS, the Business Integrity School, and it is my great pleasure to introduce to you today, Matt Friedman. Hi Matt, how are you?

0:00:25.4 Matt Friedman: Hello, hi, how are you doing today?

0:00:27.7 Cindy Moehring: Doing great.

0:00:28.2 Matt Friedman: I'm good.

0:00:29.4 Cindy Moehring: Good, good. Let me just tell everybody a little bit about you, Matt, and then we will dive into the conversation, and we are just so excited to have you here as a guest. I'll start by just telling all of you that Matt is in Hong Kong, so it is morning for him and evening for me, and we are just really grateful for him to be able to spend a little bit of time for us. And it's one of the things that quite frankly I like about Covid, the fact that we have more accessibility to people that we didn't before. So let me tell you about Matt. Matt is an international human trafficking expert with almost 30 years of experience as a manager, a program designer, an evaluator, and a frontline responder. He currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of The Mekong Club. It's a consortium of Hong Kong-based private sector business leaders who have pledged to help fight human trafficking in Asia, and we're gonna hear more about that. From 2006 to 2012, Matt was the Regional Project Manager for the United Nations inter-agency project on human trafficking in Thailand. Which is an inter-agency coordinating body that linked the United Nations system with governments and civil society groups in China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

0:01:46.7 Cindy Moehring: And prior to that, Matt worked with United States Agency for International Development in Thailand, Bangladesh and Nepal, and did a fair amount of work there as well, also working on human trafficking matters. He offers regular technical advice to numerous governments that are working to stop modern day slavery, and he is frequently cited in such world news media as CNN, TVB, BBC, Bloomberg, the New York Times, IHT, and others, on issues related to human trafficking and slavery. And he speaks at major conferences around the world. And he's the author of 10 published books, on subjects ranging from human trafficking to the ancient art of Bangladesh metal casting. So Matt, welcome, that is... You have an amazing background and credentials, but before we get into the actual topic, tell us what is Bangladesh metal casting?

0:02:43.6 Matt Friedman: Basically, I lived in Bangladesh for five years, and during the time that I was there I came in contact with villages that make statues. Basically using a method that is 2000 years old. It was dying out. And I basically helped them to publicize it so that they could expand their business to what it was before. So it's just one of those things that you kind of stumble across and then get excited about and then promote, and that's what I did there.

0:03:12.1 Cindy Moehring: Wow. 2000 years old, that's pretty good. And I thought my great-grandmother doing tatting, I don't know if you're familiar with what that is.

0:03:19.8 Matt Friedman: Oh yeah? Yeah, yeah.

0:03:21.0 Cindy Moehring: She was born in 1900 and taught me how to tat. I would have to have to work a little bit... I thought that was an old art, so... Very interesting. Well, tell us all, if you don't mind, Matt, how did you get into the human rights area, and human trafficking in particular? I know I read it in your bio, but can you just add a little bit of color there about your experience and kind of what led you to where you are today?

0:03:45.0 Matt Friedman: Yeah, I mean, I got into it very accidental. I was a Public Health Officer living and working in Nepal, and I was supposed to be looking at the HIV/AIDS portfolio. At that time, we were finding girls, 12 13 years old who were HIV positive. Couldn't understand what was going on, that's a very conservative culture. So we went out to interview the girls and heard pretty much the same story over and over again. A trafficker would come into a community, flash a bunch of money around, and basically say, "I'm looking for a wide. Don't want an urban wife, I want a village wife." He'd find a girl, 12, 13 years old, befriend her, and then go to the family and say, "I wanna marry your daughter." They're thinking, "Wow, he's rich, he's handsome, gonna take care of our daughter, gonna take care of us." A couple of days later, they actually get married. After that, he goes to the family and says, "I'm gonna take your daughter to Kathmandu, the capital. Don't worry, I'll be back in three months." But that wasn't what was going to happen. Instead, he would take her to Mumbai, India, to the red light district.

0:04:43.3 Matt Friedman: He'd put her in a room, say, "Honey, stay here. I'll be back in a few minutes." As she was walking in, she saw all these people milling around, she said, "No, no, no, no, don't leave me, I'm scared." He says, "It's okay, you just stay here." He then goes to the madam to get the $500 for having sold her to the brothel. He gets the gold from the wedding, and he hands the wedding pictures over. He then leaves to go back to Nepal to do this again and again, maybe 40, 50 times in a year. The madam then goes into the room where the girl is and says, "Guess what, your husband just sold you to me, you're gonna be with 20 guys a day every day." You can imagine her shock. "No, no, no. My husband loves me." "No, that's what happened." When she comes to internalize this, many of the girls say, "I'll kill myself before I do those shameful things."

0:05:25.4 Matt Friedman: The madam then takes out the photograph of the wedding, and says, "Is this your mom, your dad, your brother? If you hurt yourself, we'll hurt them." Make her into a prostitute, it's quite simple, you bring in a couple of professional rapists, you rape this girl 20-30 times, so she eventually just lays back and accepts what happens to her, and she's put on the line where she'll be with 20 guys a day for a couple of years until she's depleted spiritually, emotionally, physically...

0:05:51.0 Cindy Moehring: Oh yeah.

0:05:52.2 Matt Friedman: And they throw her out into the street. So I was seeing this over and over again. But it really didn't cross over the line until I actually went to those brothels. The Indian government invited me to do public health checks, had a police officer with me, went into one of the brothels, there was an 11-year-old trafficking girl, a victim. This girl saw me, saw an opportunity, literally ran up, wrapped herself around me and said, "Save me, save me, they're doing terrible things to me."

0:06:18.2 Matt Friedman: I look down at this child who is wearing a dress 20 sizes too big, because she was a child in an adult's world, she was hysterically crying. Turned to the police officer and said, "We need to get her out of here." He said, "We can't do that." "What are you talking about? You're a cop." "Well, if we try to leave, they'll kill us both." Make a long story short, left, came back with a lot more police, but of course she was gone. Now, I tell that story because I wasn't one of those 15-year-olds that said, "When I grow up, I wanna do human rights work." This particular test in my life had such a devastating impact on me, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. But I did what a lot of activists eventually do, surrender to the fact that now that I know about this, this is what I'm gonna do with my life, and 30 years later, here I am talking to you.

0:07:01.7 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, what a just a gut-wrenching story. And I think a common misconception is that when you talk about modern day slavery or human trafficking, that people think that it's just the sex trafficking trade, where in actuality that's only about 25% of it, as I understand it, it's really about 75% of it that is actually forced labor, and that about 60% of that exists in some of the supply chains, right, from global companies...

0:07:28.9 Matt Friedman: That's exactly true. Those are exactly the figures.

0:07:31.5 Cindy Moehring: You got into it and your eyes... Yeah. So, Matt, let's take it to that to almost the higher level as well, and talk about a lot of those social issues. And for those of us who are fortunate to get the chance to hear from you directly on campus, we'll talk a lot more about the specific human trafficking, but before we leave that issue, just tell the audience here, to remind them, how many people do you believe are actually in slavery today?

0:08:04.6 Matt Friedman: Well, the official number that's being used now is about 40 million. Of that, 15 million of them would be what's called forced marriage, where a person is forced into a marriage, not to have a marital type situation, but basically to work for the family. The rest of them, 25 million would be what's described as forced labor, as you indicated, about 25% of that sex trafficking, 75% would be associated with supply chains. And then as a part of that, you would find that there's manufacturing, fishing, domestic help, and so forth. So we're talking about a lot of people. In fact, 9.2 million people enter per year, about 25,200 per day, or new slave every four seconds. So we're talking about a huge number of people who are in this situation. Profits generated from this, about 150 billion US dollars a year. But the important point is, with all of the United Nations, governments, and NGOs collectively working together, we're only helping about 0.2% of the victims. Not even a half percent.

0:09:11.7 Cindy Moehring: Wow.

0:09:12.2 Matt Friedman: This is part of the reason why the private sector has been brought in. Because the association supply chains is so relevant to this process, they have to be part of the solution.

0:09:21.4 Cindy Moehring: Alright, so let's zoom out then and put that issue in context of what's going on sort of in corporate America today, and the big issues around ESG, and not just reporting out on it but turning it into part of a company's strategy, and making sure that it is actually relevant to what the company is doing today, and that they're focusing on all things related to environmental, social and governance. That's a lot of territory to cover. Let's be clear. That's a lot. And I find in a lot of the literature right now that there's a tremendous amount of focus on climate change, as there should be, right? And there's been a tremendous amount of focus on the governance issues as well, you know, board make-up, and what is the board overseeing, and those kinds of things. But the social issues, I don't know are getting quite as much play, but what do you think about that?

0:10:18.6 Matt Friedman: Yeah, basically, it's the orphan among the three. It's something that people have given lip service until recently, partly because they didn't really know what to do with this. They didn't look at the S as being something that could be easily measured, or was relevant to what it was that companies needed to be measured on. And so I would attend conferences, even five years ago, where people would talk about the day when the S will eventually be articulated. And this went on and on and on and on, until recently. Now we're beginning to see, and I think it's partly post-Covid, that if you are going to measure the effectiveness of companies in terms of their relationship between themselves and the world or communities or workers, you have to be able to measure every aspect of that. So the E has been measured for years. You have very sophisticated metrics that look at carbon footprints that are able to measure carbon output and so forth. Governance has been in place. But the S has not been. And it's been just in the last three or four months that we begin to see a significant change in the direction of this being considered just as important as some of the other aspects.

0:11:34.0 Cindy Moehring: So do you think... So obviously, there are some very large multinational companies that have been, I would say, measuring and tracking, and trying to improve their supply chains for years, when you say that it's only really picked up steam more recently, are you speaking to sort of companies of all sizes, are you talking about it catching the attention of the investment community, or what do you think there?

0:12:00.5 Matt Friedman: Just to give an example, I was in Canada and I was doing a series of presentations to the general public, and I had a bunch of teachers come up to me afterwards and say, "How do we know that the investments that we have for our retirement fund aren't supporting modern slavery? We can measure that from the standpoint of how much pollution or global warming companies have, so we can see it from the standpoint of whether or not companies treat their employees well, but we don't know this about the S." So what's gradually happened over time and a lot of it has to do with the millennials, who really do care about the products that they buy.

0:12:34.5 Cindy Moehring: Yeah pretty much.

0:12:35.1 Matt Friedman: The question comes up on a regular basis, and so the investors were caught between a rock and a hard place. They knew that it was important, but they didn't know what to do. And so they started to come to organizations like ours to ask the question, "How do we do our due diligence in order to ensure that the organizations we're investing in aren't basically hurting people?" And so this gradual process continued up until Covid, and when Covid hit, all of a sudden people are sitting at home, they're quarantined, and they're spending more time thinking about, "When I buy products, are those products helping? Are they contributing? Are they making the world a better place?"

0:13:13.0 Matt Friedman: And so it used to be that companies had three major motivations, profit, growth and prestige. Another one has been added, which is whether or not a company is doing good for the world. Now this is a topic that is here, it's expanding, it's becoming a lot more relevant than it had been in the past, and it's not going away. This is something that is really going to, over time, be a force of nature. Because what's happening in a lot of countries is even the regulators are looking at this. So you can't green wash things by saying, "I do a self-assessment and I'm doing all of these things," without somebody eventually coming and saying, "Well, are you sure you're really doing those things? If you say you're doing them, you better be doing them." And so regulations will be put in place in Europe, United States and some place. So basically, ESG is going to become the metric for measuring whether or not companies are doing the right thing.

0:14:08.9 Cindy Moehring: Yeah. Whether they're actually doing the right thing. It's so interesting, I do get the sense that Covid sped that whole process up quite a bit. And I think you've already answered one of the questions I was gonna ask you, but I do get the sense that you believe it's here to stay. It's not, here at the moment but will fade over time. Do you think it was that Covid was the tipping point? Or could you pinpoint it?

0:14:33.6 Matt Friedman: I think it was. I do think it was. And I think you have to understand that this trend started back in the '70s when there was so much emphasis on pollution and companies were being called out, and then... So corporate social responsibility became the first incarnation of this. This is the next incarnation. The next wave.

0:14:53.1 Cindy Moehring: That's very interesting, though, that you describe it that way. So I think some people don't even necessarily understand CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, and how that may be different. Is it even different than ESG? So, in your mind, do you think this is the next iteration, help me and the audience kinda understand how you see the difference.

0:15:17.5 Matt Friedman: Okay. So there was a time, about 25 years ago, where people were saying companies have to be more responsible. So they develop what were called Corporate Social Responsibility offices, and in there they had people who were staffed to basically identify a way of showing to the world that this company is good. But it kinda went off in the wrong direction, instead of the company looking at its relationship with the world, they would come up with, "We're supporting education projects, we're supporting disability projects, we are basically doing this community run that helps things. And so, because we're doing these things, we're good. Okay? Judge us good. We don't have to talk about these other things, because we have this portfolio of things that contributes to the world." So to a certain extent, they were able to get off the hook, because they would say, "This is our goodness," not, "We are basically engaging in the world in a way that that adds value."

0:16:14.6 Matt Friedman: What has happened with ESG, when people looked at Corporate Social Responsibility, it wasn't reflecting whether a company was really good in terms of its nexus between communities or the planets or biodiversity, all these other things. They said, "You have to measure those things." So what ESG does is allows for the first time for there to be an objective way of measuring everybody using the same potential yardstick, so that you can determine who's on the naughty or the nice list.

0:16:43.6 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, so it's become more mainstream, in your opinion, and tied directly, if you will, to the business of a company, not something that may be sitting over here on the side that they can say, "Oh look, here's... Here's what we're doing to try to show that we're a responsible citizen." It's changed, it's become part of, I would say, the fabric, if you will, of what a company does, just as much as the bottom line that it creates from the types of products or services that it sells. So their impact has to be tied directly to that, not something over on the side, if I'm understanding you right. Very interesting. So now you mentioned a consistent yardstick to compare companies by, but yet it seems to me there are a number of different, almost rating agencies or bodies out there right now, and that we don't have a consistent standard. What do you... Tell me what your thoughts are on that, and how far away do you think we are from having a consistent yardstick?

0:17:40.9 Matt Friedman: So I think ultimately what might happen is you may have these different, what are called standard holders, these organizations that have indicators. But what I'm hoping happens is you have a certain percentage of E and S and G that everyone has to measure the same way. So maybe you can have some variation and you can go into more detail, but you really want there to be one standard that people follow. And because the legal system wants to kind of get involved and regulate this, I think we're moving in that particular direction.

0:18:14.4 Cindy Moehring: So let's talk about The Mekong Club that you founded and that you still lead today in South East Asia. Tell us a little bit about that organization. And who's a member of it? And what is it all about? What are they trying to do? What are you trying to do by leading that organization?

0:18:34.0 Matt Friedman: Well, the genesis of this goes back to when I was working for the United Nations. We, at a meeting one day where we were looking at the statistics, at that time the number was 21 million people, and we knew that the world was helping 34,000, when you put those two together, again at 0.2% of the victims are getting help, it was a very sobering moment. And when we realized that, we said, "Let's go back to the numbers and figure out what we need to do in order to have more impact." So, again, we looked at 75% of modern slavery's forced labor, 60% as I said was supply chain. So I started to fly up to Hong Kong to talk to business leaders. And because I was a UN person, they would take the call. What we learned was many of them knew about the issue... Or didn't know about the issue, they immediately recognized the business risk, but they didn't wanna have a conversation with somebody like me because I came from that naming and shaming world.

0:19:28.7 Matt Friedman: So we had enough of these trips and eventually organizations within the private sector said, "Listen, we need an organization to help us to understand what we need to know about modern slavery, can you set something up?" So we set up The Mekong Club. We called it that because it doesn't mean anything. If we said Anti-this or Human Rights that, it would scare the private sector away. So for a couple of years, we did presentations to C-suite, to the directors, and helped sensitize people, but at the same time, things were changing. We were seeing legislation coming in, transparency legislation, that basically forced companies to put on their website what they're doing to address modern slavery. So they had to all of a sudden learn about this. We were seeing naming and shaming and lawsuits that were basically creating reputational risk for companies.

0:20:16.6 Matt Friedman: We were seeing a significant increase in media coverage. And then ESG, as we talked about, was beginning to emerge as a force of nature. As a result of this, we morphed into an association. So as part of our association, we work with banks, manufacturers, retailers, the hospitality sector, and we help them to understand in a positive, supportive way what they need to know in order to address the issue. And then based on these discussions, we have them tell us what they need to protect themselves, whether it's training, whether it's some type of an app, whether it's an analysis, and so we develop tools.

0:20:55.7 Matt Friedman: So what we do is we engage with them, we collect their feedback. They tell us what they need, we build these things, and then we give them back to the community. And as a result of this process, we're able to help them to protect their business. So, certain businesses initially start off by doing this because they wanna protect themselves, but over time some of them internalize the fact that, Wow, what we're doing really does potentially help people, that's kind of a cool thing. And some of them go on to be even leaders when it comes to addressing the issue.

0:21:29.0 Cindy Moehring: That's fantastic. And you mentioned the tools, and you mentioned technology a bit, and I think some of what The Mekong Club is doing there is really, really groundbreaking. You're using blockchain in a certain way, and a couple of other technologies. Can you talk about that for a minute, how technology can be used by companies to help solve this issue, and also the app that you mentioned?

0:21:56.0 Matt Friedman: Yeah, just to give an example, so one of the big issues that results in modern slavery would be a worker that comes from one country, ends up in a factory in another country, and then they get exploited. But when auditors go into the factory to audit the company, because they don't speak the language they can't communicate with those workers, and so it's a great disadvantage.

0:22:15.4 Cindy Moehring: So true.

0:22:17.5 Matt Friedman: So the way the app works, and I don't have it on this phone, but what you would have would be flags of countries that would be listed on the front. The auditor goes up to the worker and gets them to press the flag from where they come from, and then with headphones on, in their language, the audio would say, "We're gonna ask you some questions. If the answer to the question is yes, press green. If it's no, press red." And then you ask a bunch of questions, some of them are health and safety, to just kind of not let them know what the topic is, but some of the questions would be, Do you have debt from prior to coming here? Are you able to say no to overtime? Do you have your passport and your identification information? So by asking these questions, you can determine from the most vulnerable people, the extent to their vulnerability. So this has helped to significantly increase victim identification. Because for the first time auditors are really able to talk to the people they need to talk to.

0:23:17.4 Matt Friedman: It's a very simple tool. The blockchain technology basically allows for us to take information related to migrants, put it into a blockchain format that is immutable, can't be changed. So that when the auditors come in, they can see the information in a form that hasn't been adjusted. And they can then compare that with the employees. And so I suspect you're gonna see more and more of this type of technology being used in order to really help the private sector to protect their business from there being exploitation in it.

0:23:51.5 Cindy Moehring: So The Mekong Club recently partnered with some other organizations, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Refinitiv, White & Case, and actually released a whole white paper that addressed, how do we amplify the S in ESG? Going back to what we were talking about just a little bit earlier. And there were some investor myths and that you busted in this paper. So what do you think some of the most common myths are that were reported on in that paper, and what can the audience sort of learn from what was written in that white paper, Can you share a few of those with us?

0:24:31.8 Matt Friedman: Okay, so one of them would be social performance is less material than what you would have with the E and the G, difficult to know how to assess social performance, hard to measure the S, qualitative is best not quantitative, only relevant for impact investors. All of those are statements that are said on a regular basis, but the truth is that there's a lot of data related to the S that's available. If you collect that data and analyze it, you could really make a determination as to whether or not there are issues and problems. So what we tried to do is to take the statements that we hear over and over again, and then research whether or not there's any validity, and we came to realize that out of the things that I just mentioned, all of them can be busted. We can measure it, we can use this for the determination as to whether or not there are problems related to the S, etcetera, etcetera.

0:25:34.9 Cindy Moehring: Wow, and technology that we just talked about, that's gonna make it even easier to measure, I would think, in many respects, a lot of that will be.

0:25:42.0 Matt Friedman: It certainly will, yeah. See, the thing is, is if you wanna measure something, you can, you just have to have the will to do it. And I think part of the problem is that there wasn't the will. But there is so much pressure now from consumers wanting to know that the companies that they are potentially investing in or buying from are appropriate, that you're going to see that the ESG will just, as we talked about earlier, rise to the top of the list as a well-rounded force.

0:26:11.8 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, I do sense that the kind of the drum beat around the issue is coming from both sides. It's the consumer side, which I do get the sense that Covid really fueled that fire a bit, as you mentioned, we were all sitting at home. But similarly on the investor side, because that's when you started seeing the shareholder letters from Larry Fink at BlackRock and others kind of come out. It all kinda coalesced around this tipping point moment, if you will, around social justice, and George Floyd's death, and corporate social responsibility, business round table statement about stakeholder theory, and it kind of became, it all just has reached a crescendo, if you will.

0:26:55.9 Matt Friedman: Exactly. That's a good way of saying it.

0:26:56.0 Cindy Moehring: And we can't have the S be left behind. Fair amount of tension, like we said, on the environment, but they all need to have equal billing. So tell us a little bit more about what you think about some of the biggest risks that companies are actually facing right now when it comes to ESG, how to balance all of those, and what are some of the misconceptions do you think about your work with private companies, sometimes when you talk about it, is it still really the name and shame approach or is it something different these days?

0:27:29.5 Matt Friedman: I think the biggest risk is just a lack of general awareness about what the issue of modern slavery is. Each year I do road trips. I haven't been able to do it because of Covid. But we did it across Australia and New Zealand and Singapore and Canada, the United States, and I'm astounded at how low the general awareness is related to this particular topic. People have misconceptions, as you say, they think about this as sex trafficking, they don't understand the relevance of forced labor, and if you're in North America you're thinking, Well, this is very far away. Even though it really isn't, because it's estimated 700,000 people in modern slavery in the United States alone.

0:28:12.9 Cindy Moehring: Let's just stop there for a minute. 700,000 in the US, is what is estimated?

0:28:16.1 Matt Friedman: 700,000. Yeah.

0:28:17.0 Cindy Moehring: That's a lot.

0:28:18.2 Matt Friedman: So that includes sex trafficking, it includes domestic helpers, it includes a lot of the people who pick our tomatoes and our oranges and do the dirty work that nobody wants to do. These are people who got into the country, they're under the radar, and they're just being exploited. So they think, Well, it happens in Bangladesh and Thailand, but it wouldn't happen here. They're really shocked and surprised when they hear that. The other thing is, in manufacturing you have often three tiers, the assembly tier, tier one, you have where the, let's say it's a running shoe, where the rivets and the shoe laces and the zippers and everything, tier two and tier three would let's say be the raw material, the metal, the cotton, the rubber. Most companies have been auditing tier one for 25 years. You really don't find many issues at that level. But there's never been an expectation to go down below that. But with the new legislation, the expectation is you have to go all the way down to the lowest level of your supply chain. Let's say that you were auditing 1400 companies, tier ones, and all of a sudden you're now told you have to do tier two and three, that's 5/6/7000 companies that have to be audited.

0:29:25.5 Matt Friedman: That's a problem. Who's gonna pay for that? How is that gonna be done? So all of a sudden manufacturers are really beginning to kind of question, What are we gonna do in order to achieve this expectation that has tremendous expense associated with it. One of the things we're seeing are companies are sharing audit information. So instead of all the companies that are using that zipper company auditing it, one company audits zippers, somebody else does shoelace, somebody else does rivets. So you're gonna see some significant changes in the way corporations basically work together to ensure that the companies that they work with aren't adding... Contributing to any kind of exploitation of workers.

0:30:07.9 Cindy Moehring: Yeah. So do you have any positive success stories that you can talk about through some of the work that The Mekong Group has done with... Or Club, I'm sorry, has done with any companies?

0:30:20.2 Matt Friedman: Well, what happened in Hong Kong is a lot of the organizations that were here, were tired of hearing over and over again that people in Hong Kong don't care about anything but profit, and they would use slave labor in order to have shareholder profits and so forth. And so, many of the people that I work with really did care... Or do care about the world, and they do really try to put systems and procedures in place to help. And so they finally said, We're gonna put a pledge up that demonstrates our commitment to addressing this. And so as part of the pledge, they came up with a statement, and it basically says, We, the collective community have a zero tolerance associated with this, and we think it's reprehensible and we're gonna do everything we can to address it. This was a spontaneous outcome of one of our association meetings. And it demonstrates that the private sector, on a very, very sensitive issue, decided that they wanted to have a public stand. That's one thing. The other thing is, is that as companies come to realize the vulnerability of this, as I mentioned initially they do this from a standpoint of protecting their company, many people have gone one step, two steps further to beginning to join the panel and the conference circuits to talk about the relevance and the importance of addressing this issue. Not just from the business risk standpoint, but because it's the right thing to do.

0:31:51.6 Cindy Moehring: It's the right thing to do. Yeah.

0:31:54.3 Matt Friedman: There's been a fair amount of resistance, don't talk about something that is overly sensitive, but we're seeing that companies are doing it because they recognize that, by not talking about it, other companies aren't joining the movement to move forward. So this is a very...

0:32:10.0 Cindy Moehring: Well I think... I'm sorry, totally interrupted you. Go ahead.

0:32:13.6 Matt Friedman: No, I see this as a very positive direction that we're going in.

0:32:19.0 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, I do too, and I think that there's just a different expectation these days that investors and consumers have of the CEOs of companies, they are expecting them to address many of these social issues and to not stay silent on them anymore. And that's new. That's something that's very, very different than where it was, say, even 10 years ago, certainly 20 years ago.

0:32:43.0 Matt Friedman: Well and this translates again to, let's say that you're in on one of those shops that sells different brands of running shoes, and you see two that look very much the same, pretty much the same price, but you have to identify what's that tipping point. And then you think, Oh, well, I read something about that company doing really excellent work, maybe I'll go with this company. So it's those types of consumer decisions that will ultimately help to determine the ultimate direction of whether or not companies take this seriously or not.

0:33:16.6 Cindy Moehring: Yeah. Matt, I think we're gonna leave it there. This has been a fabulous conversation. Thank you so much for your time. I know it's early in the morning there. And before we go, there's one last question I like to ask all of my guests. If somebody wants to dive a little bit deeper and understand this whole issue even more, what would you recommend that they either read or watch, or is there a good podcast series? What would you direct them towards?

0:33:45.6 Matt Friedman: Well, thank you for the opportunity to talk about this. This podcast is an example of something that people can watch. In terms of the papers, Amplifying the S in ESG, Investor Myth Buster. We mentioned this. It's out, it's an easy read. It was written in such a way to not be an academic paper, it was meant to basically try to talk about this in a way that even a layperson could understand. And if you wanna understand more about ESG, just Google it. ESG and manufacturing, ESG and fashion industry, ESG and whatever aspect that you want, there's so much good information that's available online. You can spend hours and hours just going through things. There are videos, there are podcasts, there's papers. The documentation and the information available has significantly grown in the last two years, and just about anything you need would be available out there in the real world.

0:34:50.1 Cindy Moehring: I agree. Alright, Matt, thank you very much, this has been a real pleasure and I've really appreciated having you as a guest.

0:34:58.0 Matt Friedman: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

0:35:00.0 Cindy Moehring: Absolutely.

[music]

Matt WallerCindy Moehring is the founder and executive chair of the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. She recently retired from Walmart after 20 years, where she served as senior vice president, Global Chief Ethics Officer, and senior vice president, U.S. Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.


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