VERGE

How a social platform for workers can drive supplier change

In an increasingly globalized economy, supply chains can sometimes circle the globe. the problem is, many of the countries that are home to suppliers may not have OSHA-like saftey measures in place. When downstream companies are ignorant or turn a blind eye, the results can be deadly. Many companies though, are taking labor more seriously as a core strategy in their business.

"Companies are starting to take labor conditions in their supply chain quite seriously across a range of different sectors," said LaborVoices CEO Kohl Gill at VERGE Salon in London. "[They] are moving their response to worker abuses from public relations, where it used to sit, into more mainstream functions."

"We're seeing actual budgets [and] actual staff start to be devoted to this to the tune of about $15 billion per year," Gill said. "Whether you call that sustainability, social responsibility, or responsible sourcing, these are significant investments companies are making. It's still small compared to regular supply chain management, but still quite substantial."

But how is a company supposed to ensure the integrity of the treatment of labor in its supply chain? A lot of money is spent on site audits to investigate, uncover or report any abuses. The problem is, an inspector only has a limited time on the ground. Workers are on-site year-round.

Gill pointed out that many workers have access to mobile phones, and that connectivity could be the key to solving the problem.

"When we look at workers, and we see them as connected individuals, it naturally raises the question: Why are we relying on inspectors to understand supply chains?" he asked. "Why aren't we relying on the workers themselves?"

Using a Trip Advisor-like platform developed by LaborVoices, workers can rate factories, farms and other places of work. Data is aggregated so workers can find the best opportunities, and so brands can see what suppliers are treating their workers well.

"Brands are telling us that they've never had access to information of this quality [and] timeliness before, and we're excited about that," Gill said.

Currently, the program is in place in seven countries. The most notable is Bangladesh, which is seeing viral growth in the program's user base.

"We're finding that workers are enjoying using this system as well," Gill said. "Workers already know collectively where the best jobs are, and we're tapping that source of intelligence to drive change within supply chains."