December 10 was International Human Rights Day, the ideal date for our blog to host an interview with one of the human rights experts who support the work of the GeSI Human Rights Committee by participating in its Stakeholder Advisory Group. We spoke to Heather Franzese, Executive Director at Good World Solutions.
Q: First of all, we would like to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We are really impressed by the work done by your organization to give a voice to workers all over the world. Could you briefly introduce Good World Solutions ?
Good World Solutions (GWS) is a nonprofit social enterprise that builds transparency across global supply chains by implementing affordable and scalable web and mobile technology solutions. Our mission is to use data to create safe and respectful workplaces.
In 2010, GWS created the Laborlink platform, a mobile solution that translates worker voices into actionable analytics. Simply with a mobile phone, workers are invited to answer survey questions in their native language, and privately input their answers using the phone’s keypad – at no cost to the worker. This direct engagement with workers enables companies to make data-driven decisions that improve worker well-being within their supply chains. Since 2010, Laborlink has reached more than 1 million workers in the supply chains of major apparel, electronics, and toy companies in 16 countries.
Q: So Laborlink, but also other tools in your portfolio such as the Fair Wage Guide and the Amader Kotha Worker Helpline, all have a strong ICT component. Could you explain the role ICT, and mobile solutions in particular, play in your work?
The first advantage of technology is scale. There are 7 billion mobile subscriptions globally, and growing fastest in the developing world. Many labor and human rights interventions are person-to-person, which enables a tremendous depth of interaction, but is simply not scalable to reach the millions of workers or community members involved with and impacted by global supply chains.
The second advantage of technology is anonymity. Through Laborlink we offer an anonymous channel that workers can trust to report grievances and sensitive issues without fear of retaliation. Through Interactive Voice Response, workers listen to pre-recorded questions on their local language and answer with their touch-tone keypad.
The third advantage of technology is actionable data. Unlike hotlines or face-to-face interviews, workers interact with an automated interface and their input is automatically translated into actionable data for companies and other key stakeholders.
Q: We’ve read that Laborlink project aims at positively impacting more than 1 million workers around the world by 2018. Could you tell us a bit more about the progress so far, the lessons learnt and the next steps?
Laborlink just hit the 1 million worker mark, ahead of schedule. Our vision is a world where every worker is heard, and where worker well-being is integral to business success. We also give voice to another million workers across 800+ factories in Bangladesh through the Amader Kotha worker helpline we run in partnership with the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
In developing and deploying our worker-benefit tools, we follow the Principles for Digital Development, a set of guidelines agreed to by donors and government agencies for the use of ICT in development. We also follow Lean Startup principles, a cycle of learning and iteration that enables us to keep up with the pace of change in technology. For example, in China we offer workers two options to leverage technology that’s already in their hands. For those with smartphones we offer a WeChat channel and in the 18 months since we introduced it, we’ve seen rapid adoption from 30% initially to 79% today.
Q: One of the most interesting features of the Laborlink project is how it delivers benefits not only for workers, but also for companies and their suppliers. Could you elaborate on this?
Our biggest success factor is taking a partnership approach with suppliers. We recently published this and other Best Practices for Connecting with Electronics Workers on Medium. With any technology intervention, human behavior is more important than the technology itself. In our work, trust is essential – for all parties. If factory managers believe that worker voice data is valuable for their business and human resource management, they have much less incentive to interfere or try to falsify worker responses.
Q: Good World Solutions participates in the Stakeholder Advisory Group of the GeSI Human Rights Committee. When it comes to labor and human rights, what issues should the ICT industry keep an eye on in the coming years, and what would be the best applications for ICT to contribute to their advancement?
I’m a big believer in technology as an enabler for the protection of human rights. Ubiquitous mobile technology affords us the ability, for the first time in history, to hear directly from rights-holders in real time. That could mean anyone along the supply chain from miners in the DRC to factory workers in Malaysia or cell tower installation workers in Europe. This unprecedented access in turn gives companies better tools to follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights and their mandate to protect, respect and remedy.
Forced labor is an issue we’re starting to work on, piloting first in India. Earlier this year, we won Partnership for Freedom’s Tech Challenge to Fight Labor Trafficking. With this funding, we developed a community-based survey methodology to use Laborlink to surface new data on risks of forced labor in particular communities.
Q: Finally, could you give us a preview of the work awaiting Good World Solutions in 2017? Are there any key dates we should keep in mind?
Mid-year 2017 we’ll be publishing a report from our Laborlink Bangladesh Collaborative, a joint effort of brands like C&A, Tesco, and American Eagle Outfitters who are partnering to capture real-time data from factory workers on workplace communications and workplace safety.
We published a similar report last month from our China Collaborative called Trends in Worker Voice & Job Satisfaction. Over the last 2 years, we saw a 15% reduction in workplace stress and a 10% boost in workers saying they plan to stay at their factories for at least the next six months.