BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 25, 2013 – Three University Honors students at Virginia Tech launched AboliShop – a Web browser extension that allows online consumers to check their cart to identify products that likely used forced or exploitative labor in their manufacturing or distribution – to the public today, just ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
An anti-trafficking agency, Not for Sale, compiles a database of grades for products and companies and their connection to forced labor. The students behind AboliShop used that database, but integrated it as the browser extension to make it even easier for shoppers to know how their products stack up.
“We thought that if we could do something even at all portable on the Internet it would have a huge impact,” said Kwamina Orleans-Pobee, a junior triple majoring in computer science in the College of Engineering, philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and physics in the College of Science. “A browser extension puts the information just one click away from the consumer.”
The team worked fast to have the beta launch ready for consumers to try as the busiest shopping season of the year picks up steam.
“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the largest single day shopping events for online retail for the entire year. That was a huge motivation for us to launch now," said Wes Williams of Roanoke, Va., a senior majoring in applied economic management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "There's going to be a lot of money changing hands on those days, and we wanted to make sure that consumers had the chance to know the impact of those dollars.”
The students launched efforts into creating AboliShop after the idea won first place in a Challenge Slavery contest organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and partnering agencies.
The team hopes the launch of AboliShop not only will help shoppers make better decisions, but also raise awareness about the problem of modern day slavery.
“We hear about a genocide or human trafficking, but it’s really easy to dismiss it and say it’s on the other side of the world,” said Nicholas Montgomery of South Riding, Va., a junior majoring in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering. "It’s separate in our minds. It’s not really our world. But it is happening and will continue to happen if we don’t do anything to stop it.”
The current launch is available by invitation only, which can be requested on the AboliShop website. To stay up to date on the latest with AboliShop, you can follow their progress on their website or on Twitter.
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.
Three undergraduate students gain recognition for developing an online shopping tool that targets forced labor trafficking.
Participation in the Presidential Global Scholars program and the proddings of fellow Honors student Austin Larrowe first peaked Wes Williams’ passion for fighting human trafficking and slavery.
While on the education abroad experience for University Honors students, Williams did a group research paper with four other students on sex trafficking in Europe. “I’ve been getting every human trafficking research paper I can get my hands on ever since,” Williams said.