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As you read this blog, over 100 million people worldwide are trapped in forced and slave labor, including children working in harmful, exploitative circumstances that impede their access to a decent education. The United Nations has declared December 2 International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, and with the holidays fast approaching, it’s the ideal time for every business to think about 2016 New Year’s Resolutions.

Digital has emerged as the latest business buzzword, shorthand for the sweeping transformations that come with cloud-based computing. But the truth is, companies have been digital for years. Connectivity is what’s making the big difference these days. Consider the partnership between Made in a Free World and Ariba, which I wrote about when I recently interviewed Alex Atzberger, President of Ariba. Using the Made In a Free World database of trade flows and the Ariba platform, companies can understand where forced and slave labor is in their supply chains. Originally conceived as a platform for consumers, Made in A Free World has allowed over 24 million consumers to calculate the actual number of exploited people their lifestyle demands. This kind of digital capability becomes a force multiplier when applied to global business. Imagine a world in which the marketplace helps protect people from slavery.

“Buying better is the way that we will change the world. We can use the power of globalization to protect the world’s poorest people,” said Justin Dillon, CEO of Made In a Free World. “Every time a company chooses this supplier over another one because this supplier does not use slave labor, the world changes because it’s the market saying I’m going to buy across this shared value set, not just these other considerations like price, quality and on-time delivery.”

Using the power of the marketplace

It’s easy to get charged up talking with Dillon because he’s so passionate about his company’s mission as a social entrepreneurship. What I especially like is how this partnership gives companies the power to take action.

“It no longer takes activists going out a saying how the world should be. It’s the marketplace itself doing it,” said Dillon. “Global transactions are taking place between buyers and sellers on Ariba every day, behavior that impacts what happens further down the supply chain. I’m super-impatient about changing this because I’ve met the children and adults being forced to work for our lifestyles, and they need us to work as fast as possible. They can’t just be rescued. They need the markets and context around them to change so there’s no one to rescue. Ariba is the perfect place to act on this information large-scale.”

Indeed, Atzberger told me that customer feedback about this partnership has been impressive, not least of which is due to senior leadership support.

“Leaders from companies across all industries have told us that this is something every person concerned about 21st Century business should know about,” he said. “We see it every day, be it chocolate manufacturers, retailers or even high tech companies. If you don’t know where the precious metals that go into your device comes from, if you don’t know where the supply chain ends for the chocolate beans harvested for your product, you are exposing your company to risk.”

Atzberger holds Ariba up as a fantastic example of the next evolution of cloud companies, digitally transforming processes that were previously impossible to accomplish. “We’re putting into the hands of millions of people the ability to see the supply chain several levels down. We’re entering the real future of cloud, as well as the future of cloud companies that want to do good beyond just providing a good product or service.”

With the relationships and technology in place, Dillon said that next year’s focus is on execution, helping companies analyze risks and adjust buying behavior to change the behavior of the “bad guys” far down the supply chain.

Doing good and being profitable are not mutually exclusive. Partnerships like the one between Made in A Free World and Ariba reveal the potential for cloud-based computing to change the world for the better. All signs point to a dramatic increase in cloud-based computing as business is predicted go all in, from customer engagement and human capital management (HCM) solutions to software applications company-wide. But as always, the real story is not about the technology. It’s about how the technology changes our lives and the world.

Follow me @smgaler

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