Scholar Spotlight - Emma Franck-Gwinnell

Emma Franck-Gwinnell on making businesses take action against modern slavery, and co-leading the Laidlaw Alumni Society.

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Emma Franck-Gwinnell, a Durham Laidlaw Scholar, on making businesses take action against modern slavery, and co-leading the Laidlaw Alumni Society. 

There are over 40 million victims of modern slavery today, including over 24 millions victims of forced labour. Many of them work within the supply chains which provide us with products like mobile phones, clothes and household goods. To try to tackle modern slavery, lots of countries have brought in legislation which requires large organisations to publicly disclose what they are doing to fight slavery in their supply chains. The aim of legislation like this is to encourage businesses to “race to the top” in implementing better practices, and to allow consumers to make purchasing decisions while fully informed about businesses’ practices to fight modern slavery in supply chains.

My research looked at whether this legislation is having the desired effect - is it influencing organisations to take further action against modern slavery? Are consumers able to use the information supplied by businesses to make better informed purchasing decisions? I aimed to use the results of my research to demonstrate where the legislation was failing, and communicate with politicians and government officials to identify changes that could be made to increase the impact of this legislation.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

In high school, I volunteered as part of a group called Students Against Slavery. We researched policy around modern slavery and volunteered in shelters for women and children who had survived trafficking and/or slavery. Having learned that over 60% of modern slavery is forced labour and knowing that I was going to study Law, I wondered whether businesses were doing enough to fight modern slavery, and what they were legally required to do to achieve this in their supply chains. When I learned about the Laidlaw Scholarship, I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to carry out this research and evaluate whether legislation mandating transparency in supply chains was having its intended effect.

Emma and Lusya (Laidlaw Scholar, Co-President of the Alumni Society) at the LBS EQUALL Conference earlier this year. Read Emma's blogpost about the event.

Real life leadership lessons

I have been able to apply my Laidlaw leadership training in quite a few areas in particular, and most recently, as Co-President of the Laidlaw Alumni Society. I have found it very valuable to experience leading a team where we all have the same level of experience (i.e. none). We have had the opportunity and freedom to develop ideas and projects, and bring some of our brilliant Scholars and Alumni on board to develop and test their own.

The biggest leadership lesson I have learned so far is the importance of good communication and autonomy, particularly when all the team members are busy and contributing on a voluntary basis! This has enabled each member of the team to contribute to and have ownership over our processes and projects, and has allowed us to take on bigger and more ambitious initiatives.

Laidlaw Alum or soon-to-be Laidlaw Alum? Stay tuned on the Laidlaw Scholars Network for opportunities to get involved with the Alumni Soc.

Top leadership tips

⚡️ Being able to admit that you don’t know something or that you were wrong is a strength in itself.

⚡️ Take the time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and recognise where others in your team can help balance you out.

⚡️ Understand what will motivate your team members, and work with them to achieve their goals.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

For me, being a Laidlaw Scholar means having the drive and the desire to apply your mind to a problem, and to identify how you can make a change. I also associate being a Laidlaw Scholar with a high level of intellectual curiosity, the willingness to take opportunities as they present themselves, and to create opportunities where they don’t present themselves.

I am continually astounded and inspired by my fellow Laidlaw Scholars and Alumni and all that they have achieved, and I feel very privileged to have access to such a brilliant network of creative and intellectual Scholars across such a broad variety of fields.

Trailblazers panel at the EQUALL Conference.

Which particular leaders inspire you the most and why?

As a young professional working in the corporate sphere, I find myself inspired by innovative and disruptive leaders who are able to inspire others to work towards a common goal and who recognise that profit and purpose can often go hand-in-hand. In particular, I look up to Grace Beverley, the founder and CEO of Shreddy and TALA  businesses focused on fitness and wellbeing with an emphasis on being sustainable and inclusive. Grace has made no secret of the importance of her businesses’ values, and I think she provides a great example of the sort of leadership that the new sustainability-minded and entrepreneurial generation is looking for.

Grace Beverley’s new book ‘Working Hard, Hardly Working’ isn’t out yet, but I’m very excited to read and learn from it.

Describe a scene from the future you are striving to create:

I am striving to create an equitable and fair world and there are lots of things that need to change for this target to be reached. Among (many) others, I would like to see women’s ventures be funded as much as men’s. In 2017, for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams received less than 1p, compared to all-male founder teams, which received 89p, and mixed-sex founder teams, which received 10p.


Quick-fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: Dash & Lily and Selling Sunset

Poster for Dash & Lily: Season 1 | Flicks.co.nz       Selling Sunset (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

🎵 My quarantine anthem: half•alive - still feel. and the Legally Blonde soundtrack

Legally Blonde (soundtrack) - Wikipedia       half•alive – still feel. Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

📚 My top book recommendation: The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White

The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White | Hachette UK

🎧 Podcast obsession: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text - each week, the hosts read a chapter of Harry Potter through a particular theme (e.g. love, disappointment, values), share personal stories relating to the theme and use (traditionally) religious reading practices to extract meaning from the pages of the book. 

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text on acast

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Having my first (intelligible) conversation with my niece (it was about dinosaurs).


Emma is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholar from Durham University. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.

Learn more about the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship.

🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights: 

  • Lorenzo Molinari (UCL) on advancing learning tools and practices for autistic adolescents, breaking stigmas, and calling for change.
  • Collins Mokua (Columbia) on mental health in Kenya, how he is enacting ethical leadership in real life, and building an equitable, sustainable, and just future.
  • Gráinne Sexton (Trinity College Dublin) on her research "'Tear down this wall’: Borders and Boundaries in the Native American Literature of Leslie Marmon Silko" and the importance of leadership that is grounded in humility and integrity. 
  • Richita Kudlamath (Hong Kong University) on the transformation of businesses through technological innovation, and using business as the primary driver of growth and change in society.

Nikol Chen (she/her)

Digital Content Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! My name is Nikol and I look after the Laidlaw Scholars Network.

I am originally from Kazakhstan and I studied Human Sciences at UCL. My final research explored the potential effects of design on patient wellbeing in hospitals, and I also took modules such as Ethnographic Documentary Filmmaking, Anthropology of the Built Environment, Art in the Public Sphere, and other less interesting-sounding things :)

Drop me a line if you have any questions about the site, or if you'd just like to chat! I am always down to meet interesting people, so let's get [virtual] coffee ☕️

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