Laborlink: Unfiltered Worker Feedback

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Laborlink: Unfiltered Worker Feedback: Enabling Worker-Driven Decision-Making across the Apparel Industry

Oakland, United StatesChina
Year Founded:
2010
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Scaling
Budget: 
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Laborlink is a mobile solution that translates worker voices into actionable analytics. This enables companies to make data-driven decisions that improve worker well-being within their supply chains. Since 2010, Laborlink has reached more than 350,000 workers in 16 countries.

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

What if every factory worker 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?

Two years ago, 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 every day and suffer in silence because they have no way to communicate with decision-makers.

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

Laborlink gives voice to the global workforce by providing workers a free and anonymous channel to report on true working conditions. Simply with a mobile phone, workers can privately listen to survey questions in their native language, and discreetly input their answers using the phone’s keypad – at no cost to the worker. Survey topics investigate every aspect of working conditions, from health and safety to fair wages. With unfiltered worker feedback, companies are able to have better visibility into their supply chain, pinpoint high-risk issues, and track changes over time. Laborlink data has been used to address sexual harassment in South India, uncover child labor violations in China, and report structural concerns in Bangladesh.

Awards

Laborlink has been awarded Best Social Enterprise by Ethical Corporation and recognized by Ashoka Changemakers (“Closing the Loop”), the Gratitude Network, and GSMA Global Mobile Awards.
Impact: How does it Work

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

Through Laborlink, worker-identified issues and opinion are surfacing root causes to key issues that lead to grievances, absenteeism, and turnover. At a footwear factory in Dongguan, China, workers reported issues with their dorms, transportation, and cafeteria food. Once addressed, Laborlink saw a 16% increase in job satisfaction and a 24% increase in workers reporting good relationships with their supervisors. In India, 81% of workers said their factory was a better place to work after participating in a financial literacy training. By incorporating worker feedback in both the development and evaluation of new worker opportunities, Laborlink enables factories to make the business care for investing in workers.

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

Since 2010, Laborlink surveys have reached workplaces that employ 350,000 workers in 16 countries. Our aim is to reach a million workers by 2018. 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’s report “Connected Worker: How mobile technology can improve working life in emerging economies" specifically cites Laborlink 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.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Our success has already attracted other social entrepreneurs and social auditors to the “worker tech” space. We’ve demonstrated a market for mobile-enabled worker engagement that can easily be replicated by others. As that service spreads through replication, we’ll continue to incubate new worker-benefit technologies. Current prototypes include wearables for manufacturing and mobile telepresence robots in factories that enable anyone to interact with workers through a rich video experience in real time.
Sustainability

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

Laborlink is a fee-for-service model, with 60% of costs covered by earned income in 2014 (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 Laborlink survey goes down dramatically over time. This scalability and cost advantage of voice (IVR) over SMS has been documented by GSMA Mobile for Development Intelligence.

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

In the last few years, several social audit firms have begun to offer worker survey services, typically using tablets to poll workers in-factory. Unlike Laborlink, these services do not offer the potential for rich two-way communication with workers throughout the year, do not protect workers by offering an anonymous channel outside the factory, and are not as trusted by workers. There are also a small number of other social enterprises in the WorkerTech space. Compared to these, Laborlink takes a holistic approach to worker well-being and a partnership approach with suppliers to drive change.
Team

Founding Story

Heather Franzese 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. 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, 365 days a year.

Team

Since 2010, Laborlink’s co-founders Heather Franzese and Thomas Rausch have built a dynamic and dedicated global team comprised of core functional areas Data Insights, Global Operations, Relationship Management, and Technology & Innovation. The organization has strong local teams in top countries China, India and Bangladesh, plus international field trainers in each of the 16 operating countries. The team is supported by a diverse and all-star Board and Advisory Board.
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]

Manufacturing.

Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Non-profit Staff, Technologist.

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Auditors, Brands, Corporations, Factory Workers, Factory Owners, Researchers, Retailers - Department Store, Retailers - Specialty Store, Retailers - Mass-merchandise Chain, Retailers - Discount Chain, Supplier - contractor, Supplier - subcontractor, Technologists, Women.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Access to Essential Services (i.e. Healthcare and Education), Access to Finance, Access to Social Protection Services (i.e. Insurance, Pension, etc.), Accountability, Labor Rights (i.e. Collective Bargaining, etc.), Gender Equality, Anti-forced Labor or Anti-Human Trafficking, Physical Working Conditions, Transparency.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Capacity Building, Data, Technology.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Hidden from View: Conditions in Forests, Farms, and Factories are Only Visible to a Select Few.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Disrupt Business as Usual: Target Key Players Who Can Influence the Bottom Line.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?

yes

If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?
Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?

Heather Franzese speaks regularly at social entrepreneurship and social innovation forums, inspiring young professionals.

● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

● With financial support from The Walt Disney Company, we just launched a 10-company collaboration to improve worker well-being.