Amplifying the voices of workers across global supply chains
Company: Ulula amplifies worker and community voices to create more responsible supply chains. Ulula’s technology enables organizations to gather direct and anonymous insights from anywhere in the world, online and offline, and generate actionable insights to improve ESG impact.
HQ Location & Year Founded: Toronto, 2014
Founder: Antoine Heuty, Ulula’s founder and CEO - previously held senior positions at the Natural Resource Governance Institute and the United Nations Development Program. He is the co-author of various publications on transparency, technology, fiscal policy, natural resource governance and supply chains. He has graduate degrees from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris, Oxford University and Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.
Funds Raised and VC Investors: $3 million from Good & Well, Marigold Capital, Minderoo Foundation, Working Capital
Where did the idea for Ulula originate?
I am French-American, having lived most of my life between New York and France. I am passionate about solving problems that relate to inequality. I worked for the UN as an economist at the beginning of my career and gained experience working on labor practices in mostly developing countries with oil, gas, and mining-rich companies. Tired of being the white man preaching who would parachute in, I observed that the people on the ground typically know better what issues need to be addressed than a consultant or someone who flies in with ready-made solutions that may or may not always fit the situation. I made a switch and decided to focus on using technology to build tools for the people. While my background is not as an engineer, I found a co-founder and team who could complement my skills in order to launch a company that would give voice to frontline workers.
What is the key problem that Ulula intends to solve?
We solve problems at the cradle of global value chains from mining to palm oil and from textile and apparel to construction. We focus on ways for impacted workers and communities, to have a say, and help companies identify, prevent and remedy negative labor and human rights impacts. We started in 2014, learned a lot and pivoted to our current modular system: 1) we get feedback from workers and communities through surveys and a chatbot that works on any mobile phone and operates in multiple languages; 2) we provide a grievance mechanism, or “see something, say something” and we help employers to avoid legal liabilities and remedy problems across their global value chain.
How are you most differentiated as a service?
COVID-19 underscored the vital importance of a healthy workforce for resilient supply chains; recent regulatory developments across Europe and beyond now mandate thousands of companies to undertake robust human rights due diligence and disclose their non-financial impacts across their global supply chains. As a result, companies really need to figure out the S of the ESG and Ulula provides unique tools and solutions for that. We fill a critical gap that helps solve labor and market risk that helps companies provide transparency and a public relations vehicle. We are able to reach the most vulnerable workers in their preferred communication channel and language across global value chains and create real time insights for decision makers.
What are the company’s key accomplishments to date?
We have reached over two million people in more than 50 countries in a wide ranging number of sectors from engaging artisanal miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo to strengthening migrant workers’ labor conditions in Malaysia and Qatar. We work with some of the largest multinational companies including Mars, L’Oréal, PepsiCo, Cargill, and Marks & Spencer. Our work has been recognized by various awards from the International Labor Organization or the Thomson Reuters Foundation. What makes us proud is the work we do day-to-day alongside companies, worker representative organizations, civil societies, and industry organizations to help provide a voice to workers across global supply chains.
What lies ahead in the plans for Ulula?
Recent regulatory changes across Europe, the United States and other countries are pushing companies to examine their labor and human rights impact and requiring more detailed and regular disclosure about their impacts. We plan to increase our go-to-market by scaling up to support thousands of companies engaged in that journey.
The work of mining, drilling, manufacturing, textiles, and agriculture are among the most grueling in the world and a place where voices of the workers are often left unheard. A lack of real-time information is a serious problem for the workers as a matter of safety, health, and fair treatment. It is a problem for companies that do not understand how their supply chains operate and whether they are in safe legal and ethical territory. Ulula is breaking down these barriers by providing real-time communications tools that offer transparency and immediate response and risk mitigation. By enabling reporting from the ground, the workers in these industries will not be relegated to second class citizens with voices that are silenced. It will be a test of the organizations that employ such workers if they are willing to share with the world the true working conditions of their supply chains at a basic human level and rectify poor and unsafe working situations immediately whenever they arise.