In this short talk from Techonomy 2011 in Tuscon, Ariz., Pamela Passman, CEO and President of the Center for Responsible Enterprise and Change, suggests we work harder to protect intellectual property in the digital age. If we can change the way we respect and honor workers’ rights, she says, we can also change the way we value ideas and software.
Passman: We’ve had a lot of optimistic discussions over the last few days, yet there’s this nagging sense of unease. There are signs of upheaval everywhere, from Egypt to Libya, from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, from the sweatshops of Asia to unemployment in America. The framework for social and economic order is so loaded with tension that something has to give, but when you look around the globe it has not been so good for so many as it is today. In a single generation, hundreds of millions of people have moved out of poverty into the middle class. Child mortality is on the decline and life expectancy is expanding.
So what’s going on? Maybe it’s the feeling that the benefits of globalization are unfairly distributed. Too many people believe that opportunity belongs to someone else.  Fortunately, there is a powerful force for fairness and progress. It’s not a new theory of government or political party. It’s not a new social movement. It’s your supply chain.  Look, human dignity is simple. It comes when we can connect the value of the work we do to the reward that we receive and live without fear that what we’ve achieved will be arbitrarily taken away.  It’s as simple as the rule of law. As businesspeople we believe in the rule of law as the foundation for business success, so we support it by acting responsibly, competing fairly and operating transparently. Now we can stand up for human dignity everywhere by insisting that the suppliers we work with also do the same. It’s not easy when suppliers operate in a system that asks us to turn a blind eye to corruption, unsafe working conditions and unsound environmental practices. When we turn a blind eye to the theft of intellectual property we are, in essence, creating a virtual sweatshop where people toil away without the benefit of reward for their time and energy. Doing so makes us complicit in a system that will never change unless we insist in honesty, safety and respect is as much a part of doing business as efficiency, cost and quality.
The good news is that this is the ultimate in enlightened strategic self-interest, for you and your suppliers. Stability and growth depends, not just on the premise that opportunity is for all, but the promise that talent and hard work will lead to success.  Maybe it’s not so hard to imagine. After all, in the last decade we did make progress on working conditions. Let’s build on that process. Let’s extend that work to better protect ideas and innovations that are key to growth and prosperity for years to come. After all, we all dream of a better future virtual or otherwise. Nobody wants to run a sweatshop.