Labor Link: Voice to the Global Workforce

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Labor Link: Voice to the Global Workforce

Dhaka, BangladeshOakland, Estados Unidos
Year Founded:
2010
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
Scaling
Budget: 
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Labor Link is the first platform to leverage the disruptive power of mobile to give voice to the global workforce and deliver real-time data to companies like Cisco and Patagonia to align sourcing practices with worker needs - like SurveyMonkey for the 5 billion people without internet access.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if every factory worker and farmer had a free and anonymous channel to report their working conditions and needs directly to decision-makers?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In April, 1,100 workers were killed in a factory collapse in Bangladesh. Why? Because those workers were invisible. When they saw cracks in the walls, they had no channel to report it to the companies buying the clothing they sew, and hence no way to stop this totally preventable tragedy. Millions of low-wage workers endure poor working conditions everyday and suffer in silence because they have no way to communicate with decision-makers.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Labor Link gives workers a free and anonymous channel - through their own mobile phones - to report on working conditions, opinions and needs in real time. The voice-based system does not require literacy and runs in any language. Workers simply answer short, multiple-choice surveys with their touch-tone keypad and receive educational messages about their rights and local services. Surveys cover every aspect of working conditions - from child labor to fair wages, as well as access to financial services, health and nutrition, livelihoods, and community needs. Labor Link delivers actionable recommendations to decision-makers to address worker needs. Data has been used to address sexual harassment, enhance training and improve worker housing.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The tool is giving voice to young women like Gomadi, a 20-something garment worker in Tirupur, India, who says “Labor Link gives me a voice to express my opinions and needs.” Tirupur employs 400,000 garment workers, mostly women ages 28-37. They work far from home with little knowledge about their rights. Some fall prey to Sumangali, a bonded labor scheme that withholds their pay and restricts movement. With a local NGO in Tirupur, Labor Link deployed a 13-question mobile survey to 1,200 workers to gauge their earnings and benefits. 80% reported that they do not receive their legally mandated health insurance. A call to action was sent to brands sourcing in Tirupur, to put pressure on suppliers and restore benefits to women like Gomadi.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Since 2010, Labor Link surveys have reached workplaces that employ 72,365 workers, farmers and artisans in 9 countries. Our aim is to reach a million workers in the next 5 years. By giving workers a free an anonymous reporting channel, we boost livelihoods, enhance worker-management communication, increase financial security, and facilitate empowered decision-making. Vodafone and Accenture recently released a report called “Connected Worker: How mobile technology can improve working life in emerging economies." The report specifically cites Labor Link as a model for a new type of mobile-enabled worker engagement. They estimate that by 2020, this type of mobile worker communication has the potential to benefit 18 million workers globally and boost livelihoods by $2.1 billion.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Labor Link is a fee-for-service model, with 30% of costs covered by earned income in 2013 (up from 8% in 2012). The cost of the platform is shared by the companies and NGOs using the service in a given country. Since hosting costs are shared across users, the unit cost of a Labor Link survey goes down dramatically over time. This scalability and cost advantage of voice over SMS was documented recently by GSMA Mobile for Development Intelligence.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Today, most companies rely on third-party social auditing to police working conditions — a top-down, costly, and highly subjective approach. Labor Link introduces interactive voice response (IVR) technology to achieve cost savings between 67%-80% over in-person interviews or pen and paper surveys. Unlike other platforms that capture data through smartphone or tablet, Labor Link uses basic feature phones and does not require any outside technology, which is more sustainable and appropriate in a village context. Unlike SMS-based interventions, Labor Link also does not require literacy.
Team

Founding Story

Heather was working for a billion-dollar sportswear company, visiting factories in China and Pakistan to monitor working conditions. She saw a disconnect between the workers making the product and, thousands of miles away, the company buying it and consumers wearing it. Once a year, a social auditor would visit the factory and ask workers questions about their working conditions, but workers were coached on what to say and even given bonuses to lie, so they feared retaliation for answering honestly. The company also had no good way to know what was happening the other 364 days a year. Enter mobile. Heather saw workers starting to have their own phones and saw the potential for a whole new way of connecting with workers in real time.
About You
Organization:
Good World Solutions
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Good World Solutions

Organization Country

, CA, Oakland

Country where this project is creating social impact

, Dhaka

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Impact
Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

Vodafone and Accenture recently released a report called “Connected Worker: How mobile technology can improve working life in emerging economies." The report specifically cites Labor Link as a model for a new type of mobile-enabled worker engagement. They estimate that by 2020, this type of mobile worker communication has the potential to benefit 18 million workers globally and boost livelihoods by $2.1 billion.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

One challenge of scaling Labor Link is the lack of mobile integration across countries. Unlike the internet, which is universal globally, mobile networks are dependent upon country infrastructure and regulation. Labor Link uses a combination of international and in-country IVR solutions to scale effectively despite varying mobile integration in different countries. This allows us to achieve cost savings through in-country solutions where possible, and to reach other countries through an international calling approach that. In either case, respondents pay nothing to engage with Labor Link.

Sustainability
Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

Our network of company and NGOs partners represents 5 million workers and farmers globally. Our supply chain partners include leading companies like Disney, Cisco, Patagonia and Marks & Spencer. Our government and NGO partners include USAID DIV, Fair Trade USA, Social Accountability International, VisionSpring, and MIX in microfinance. Each wants to leverage technology to listen to vulnerable populations they're trying to reach.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Help funders, governments, and other organizations to listen to and act on feedback.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

Our mission is to leverage technology to give voice to vulnerable populations - such as farmers, workers and artisans in global supply chains - and then close the loop with decision-makers by delivering actionable data that drives strategic decision-making. That could mean development agencies, NGOs and social entrepreneurs using our real-time data to refine program strategies to be tailored to local needs. It could mean consumer products companies aligning sourcing strategies to the needs of the workers making their products.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?

English.

2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

The workers that make our clothing and electronics around the world every day face deplorable conditions. There's little incentive for change because those workers are invisible. Labor Link makes workers visible, giving them a voice and a seat at the table through simple mobile surveys and info push. We deliver real-time worker feedback directly to decision-makers at apparel and electronics companies so they can align sourcing and program strategies with worker needs. On one end of the spectrum, we help identify and address labor exploitation like child labor, sexual harassment, and non-payment of wages. On the other end of the spectrum, we also drive positive social change by assessing needs for programs on financial inclusion, environmental sustainability, and health and nutrition.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Accountability to external partners

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

SMS, Phone or voice.

If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

Workers dial a local phone number and place a missed call. That triggers an automatic call-back from our system, which is free for the worker to receive. They listen to and answer short, multiple-choice surveys (typically 10-12 questions) with their touch-tone keypad, recorded in local language (so it doesn't require literacy and can run in multiple languages). They receive a voice-recorded message or SMS to thank them for participating, plus educational messages about their rights and local services.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?

Monetary incentives

If other, please specify
How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?

Specific targeted outreach efforts

If other, please specify
What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?

They understand that feedback is necessary

If other, please specify
How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?

Reports on collected information

If other, please specify
How is feedback published/transparent?

Written report

If other, please specify
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

Women's clothing brand Eileen Fisher is committed to upholding human rights in its supply chain. Deploying our Labor Link mobile surveys in several factories in India, they discovered that migrant workers in North India are living in temporary, cramped housing, and workers identified housing as their highest priority need. The company is now partnering with us, Social Accountability International, the factory, and workers themselves to co-create a solution to the housing issue that can potentially be replicated by other companies and supply chains facing a similar issue.

It's still early days, but we just signed a partnership with the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to roll out an anonymous Worker Helpline in 200 factories over the next 18-24 months, giving voice for the first time to over half a million garment workers in Bangladesh. Helpline feedback will be reported to local employers, the Alliance and its member companies to inform training on fire and building safety, drive investments that improve workplace safety, and reduce risk of workers being trapped in a deadly fire or building collapse.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

Articulate and quantify the business case for buyers and suppliers of more worker-centric policies, e.g. measure enhancements to productivity and product quality that can result from better working conditions and stronger job satisfaction. This would boost the incentive for companies to follow our recommendations, based on worker feedback, to improve specific aspects of working conditions or address workers' individual and community needs.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

Lack of incentives to use the feedback collected

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

No, but I can see myself using it as a resource

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

In countries where we're not able to set up our voice-based IVR platform for technical barriers, we could use other apps/platforms listed on the Feedback Store to capture information.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

The UX of the website is confusing, as well as the multiple entry process and knowing what to submit when. There should be some kind of reference guide or help for entrants.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

We close the loop with respondents in several ways, first through our initial outreach giving workers a sense of what to expect in the process, second by sending phone messages (voice or SMS, depending on literacy) to share findings, and third by encouraging local employers to post complete findings in the workplace.

Comments

Matt Kepple's picture

This is a smart idea. Is there a commercial application whereby you use this same technology and infrastructure to enable companies to conduct market research to better understand how their brands are perceived and/or what market gaps/opportunities exist?

I think it is an excellent approach. I would also suggest that if the organizations can use it also to crowd source innovative ideas to improve workplace like a competition run every quarter and the best idea gets a prize. (but that will need enablement of voice responses, not sure if the platform already does that.)

Mari Kuraishi's picture

I think this is impressive in the way it allows people with the most basic access to report what are or are not getting from their direct employers, allowing global brands to gain visibility deeper into their supply chains. What's not clear to me is exactly how the business model of LaborLink is configured. You mention 30% cost recovery, which is great, but do the fees you get paid by the global brands put LaborLink in a more passive position of surveyor or does it empower you to actually get more an more coverage across the global labor force? Also some more nitty gritty questions, like how are financial incentives given to workers to provide feedback (how does that financial incentive get passed on to the worker, especially if they choose to remain anonymous)? Would love to understand better how LaborLink's incentives work, and whether you see scope for making the aggregate data more visible to outsiders.

Key Ji /

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Subhashish Acharya's picture

Great invention, and a great way to prevent a problem from happening! Its like a scaled down 911 voluntary service, and very well thought about.

Bery ny /

I think is a real good invention ! Finally people of the shadow can speak, and according to me we are again going to have surprises...

Maroc pratique's picture

labor link provides companies with real-time data from their supply chain or field operations, while empowering workers and farmers
fournisseur maroc

Ilham Setyawan's picture

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