To the 22,500 workers in its garment supply chain, Marks & Spencer is listening. The British department store signed a one-year contract with social-enterprise-cum-technology-provider Good World Solutions on Tuesday to “facilitate direct communications” with its employees using mobile technology—the first U.K. company to do so. “Labor Link,” as the tool is known, allows companies to collect anonymous, quantitative survey results from workers around the world. The process is as swift as it is uncomplicated: Workers only have to listen to questions on their cellphones in Hindi, Sinhalese, or other local language—the process costs them nothing—and respond using their touch-tone keypads.
HAVING A VOICE
Mobile phones are more ubiquitous in South Asia than you might think. There are 4.5 billion mobile subscriptions in the developing world, according to Heather Franzese, director of Good World Solutions. “This is a truly disruptive innovation in ethical trade—enabling workers and buyers to connect directly,” she says.
Marks & Spencer has already tested the technology with 13 suppliers in India and Sri Lanka, surveying over 2,000 workers as part of its Plan A training programs in financial literacy, health, and nutrition.
M&S plans to roll out the service to 30 factories and 22,500 workers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The retailer plans to roll out the service to 30 factories and 22,500 workers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, gathering feedback on topics such as working conditions, job satisfaction, and training at least four times a year.
“This is an innovative breakthrough for us and moves workplace communication into the digital era,” says Fiona Sadler, Marks & Spencer’s head of ethical sourcing. “We don’t directly employ workers in the factories, but they make Marks & Spencer products, take part in Marks & Spencer training programs, and have a stake in our brand. It’s important to know whether we’re getting things right.”
Sadler stresses that the tool isn’t about checking up on its suppliers. “It’s about making sure we’re doing the right things for the workers in our supply chain and giving them a voice,” she says. “The real-time data Labor Link can deliver for us will be invaluable in shaping our policies and programs.”