Though several retailers have started releasing global factory lists in a bid for transparency, there is still a dearth of information on how workers are treated at these facilities.

An organization called LaborVoices is trying to change that. In partnership with C&A Foundation, Dutch retailer C&A’s philanthropic arm, LaborVoices developed a platform that collects anonymous employee feedback about working conditions. The program launched in Turkey, the eighth largest apparel exporter in the world, culminating with its first report of findings from data collected during several months in 2016. Employees were given the option to call in and provide answers to a series of questions about wages, time off, fire safety, abuse, cleanliness and child labor.

The report examined 50 locations that employ more than 9,000 workers, of which 3,217 shared insights, a response rate of 34 percent. Findings showed that 44 percent of callers experienced verbal abuse and 38 percent were forced to work up to 14 days without time off, a violation of labor laws. An additional 55 percent of people noted that toilet and cafeteria cleanliness and hygiene were so poor that facilities were unusable.

The report also provides scores for the 50 examined factories based on the responses, presented in a chart that provides ranked percentiles for each facility. All of the data is accessible on the LaborVoice website. To download the report, interested viewers must simply provide their name, email address and affiliation. LaborVoice plans to conduct a followup study in six months, and will continue to make updates every six months after.

Kohl Gill, CEO of LaborVoices, said the goal of the program is to give workers a voice and help influence brands and suppliers make more informed sourcing decisions. LaborVoice has previously done a similar survey in Bangladesh, the site of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, and has plans to expand its data collection to other countries.

Gill said a major challenge for brands is the void of information they have on suppliers. Many retailers only have data from factories they are already working with and aren’t always able to access internal audits elsewhere to benchmark performance. Gill said his team is tasked with overturning that blindspot.

“For the first time, these brands have the ability to prospectively say, ‘If we’re not happy with our profile of suppliers, here are other folks we can work with who are doing better,’” Gill said.

Maeve Galvin, program manager for working conditions at the C&A Foundation, said the initiative was bred out of an “ambitious need to transform the garment industry and make fashion a force for good.” C&A contributes to LaborVoices by providing funding for programs that drive transparency. Galvin said the recent reports demonstrate the dire need to shed light on workers’ issues.

“There is an appetite among workers to communicate about their conditions; they’re keen to share,” she said. “This is a tool that captures worker data en masse, and it hasn’t really been done before. Workers have been interviewed by NGOs and auditors for a long time, but a worker being able to phone something and contribute data on their industry is still is an emerging area.”

Both Gill and Galvin said by releasing the data publicly, they hope it will foster dialogue and inform industry members of existing challenges. The next step is identifying how to use it to instigate change. Galvin said this effort will likely be incremental, but it can start as small as equipping workers with data they can use when negotiating or making official complaints.

“Public release of information is a great starting point to begin a conversation,” she said. “A few years ago, transparency was a scary word for the industry. What we’re seeing now are good preliminary efforts.”

Image courtesy of Business & Human Rights Resource Center

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