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With New Worker-Engagement Technologies, 18 Million Is Just the Beginning

Image credit: Vodafone

It has the potential to benefit 173 million workers in global supply chains and provide livelihood benefits or savings of US $30 billion annually, according to Vodafone and Accenture.

What is the ‘it’? It’s a series of six disruptive opportunities for mobile to enhance the lives of workers in global supply chains. Details are laid out in their report, Connected Worker: How mobile technology can improve working life in emerging economies, with corresponding reach, benefits and business case for each of the six:

  1. Job Finder: Lower recruitment costs by matching people with the right skills to the right jobs
  2. Fieldforce Enablement: Boost the productivity, safety and effectiveness of workers
  3. mIdentity: Lower security costs by authenticating worker credentials
  4. mLearning: Drive improved performance and worker loyalty through virtual training
  5. Worker Panel: Enhance real-time visibility by gathering anonymous data on working conditions
  6. mPayroll: Reduce payroll costs and corruption, and extend financial inclusion

Imagine if your company could be part of that massive impact. You can. All you need is a supply chain with a workforce that’s not easily reached via the Internet. Whatever your strategy to improve lives in the supply chain, mobile has a role to play.

We’ve tested #5, the Worker Panel concept, through our Labor Link mobile survey platform in nine countries, including China, India, Brazil and Bangladesh. Workers access a free and anonymous channel to report on working conditions, and brands get real-time data to identify and address problems quickly, before they become front-page news. The need is clear for apparel brands and retailers such as such as Marks & Spencer, where direct communication with workers has the potential to revolutionize a largely failed auditing model.

The newest sector to test Labor Link is electronics, where Cisco and HP are pioneering a new way to engage with suppliers and workers. Cisco was the first electronics company to use Labor Link and profiled the worker-engagement strategy in the Supply Chain section of its latest CSR report. In a pilot, they surveyed 1,200 workers on worker-management communication and community needs. Nearly 450 workers responded — a 37 percent response rate — sharing feedback confidentially using their telephone keypads. Cisco shared the results with its supplier and envisions many uses for the tool, including to “help validate audit findings and determine potential areas to assist suppliers with building their capabilities.”

HP has also tested Labor Link in its supply chain in Brazil as part of a project developed by Social Accountability International (SAI) and sponsored by The Walt Disney Company. The project featured the Social Fingerprint Rapid Results methodology, conducted in partnership between SAI and the Rapid Results Institute and Good World Solutions. The aim is to make quantifiable health and safety improvements against ambitious 100-day goals. Mobile surveys are leveraged to track worker participation and progress against the goals — making sure the benefits of the specific Social Fingerprint Rapid Results project ripple across the entire workforce, not just the small worker-manager team tasked with leading the change.

What we’ve found in electronics is that the larger factory workforce (compared to apparel) actually makes a stronger business case for suppliers. They desperately need tools to automate their workforce communication and, in China especially, to understand the dynamics behind high turnover and low job satisfaction. Mobile makes it affordable and scalable to survey the entire workforce and stay on the pulse of worker sentiment.

Vodafone’s advice to businesses considering this new type of worker engagement: Like any sustainability strategy, start by quantifying the business case. How much is it worth to your company to minimize risk, get a higher return on investment from auditing, and be the first to know about problems in your supply chain? That’s not including the social benefit. For the Worker Panel concept alone, Vodafone has estimated a potential to benefit 18 million workers and livelihood benefits of US $2.1 billion annually.

With 100 million people employed in manufacturing in China alone, the potential to improve the lives of 18 million workers seems like just the beginning. 


Heather Franzese has been working for over 12 years to improve the lives of vulnerable farmers and workers in global supply chains. She leads Good World Solutions (formerly World of Good Development Organization), a social enterprise that uses mobile technology… [Read more about Heather Franzese]


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