Rob Lederer, B’78, was at the Responsible Business Alliance’s annual conference when he received an urgent call. As executive director of the RBA, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate social responsibility, or CSR, in global supply chains, he was hesitant to leave the stage but was told that someone from the U.S. government was on the phone, and it was important.

Several days later, he was at the White House to accept the 2019 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons for the RBA’s work and leadership “to push for industrywide change to enhance worker protections, transform the market for ethical recruitment practices, and promote strong management systems to prevent human trafficking and trafficking risks in global supply chains.”

His organization focuses on the entire supply chain for large companies, including supplier factories in Asia and Mexico, where risks of forced and bonded labor are major challenges. “Our work touches the lives of millions around the world,” he said. “These workers are the most vulnerable.”

The RBA’s growth and impact are points of pride for Lederer, who was its first full-time staff member. The alliance — which has offices in North America, Europe, and Asia — has a developed a code of conduct and a range of programs, training, and assessment tools to support continual improvement. Nearly 400 companies that directly employ more 21.5 million people and manufacture in more than 120 countries are members of the RBA and its initiatives.

“The companies come together for a mission of good. At the end of the day, many determine what they do based on what people care about,” said Lederer, noting a growing CSR trend across the globe. Adopting the best CSR practices can be expensive, but today, many customers demand it.

“It’s a journey. The companies have to believe in it from their core mission.”