For the workers – story of Labor Link
The factory of the world
South – East Asia and especially China, is often called “The Factory of the World”. In the globalised world, this region was chosen by many companies and corporation as the best place for their factories. It is not a coincidence, there are many factors that make South East Asia ideal localization for them. Comparing to Western World there are almost no regulations for the workforce and conditions of their work in the factories. This makes labour very cheap – no minimum wage and a very low percentage of union workers make manufacturing products there an easy choice. But everything that makes this region so wonderful for the corporations, also makes the living situation for the employees often really bad, if not nightmarish.
This is the note found by the Woman from Arizona in the freshly bought Walmart:
“Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China is working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be beaten. Their meals are without oil and salt. Every month, the boss pays the inmate 2000 yuan, any additional dishes will be finished by the police. If the inmates are sick and need medicine, the cost will be deducted from the salary. Prison in China is unlike prison in America, horse cow goat pig dog (literally, means inhumane treatment).”
This is an extreme example, but many products we buy in the western world are created in an inhuman environment, where people are exploited in many ways. There is no pay for their forced overtime. They are not able to go to the vacation or maternity leave. Very often they are becoming the victims of mobbing from their managers. Health and safety conditions also aren’t up to modern world standards – after working in some factories, employes are having many medical disorders, that they suffer for many years. If we want for our consumption to be ethical, we have work for the betterment of the workforce of Asia.
Giving back the voice
The question is what workers in South East Asia need to fight for their rights?
An ability to express yourself and especially to voice your discontent with the world around you. Many news of bad conditions of the workers in their companies isn’t heard by the corporations, because their suppliers’ management tries to hide the news about the worst practices from them. Ignorance is often bliss. Supervision is usually done very symbolically, because of the fear of losing profits and cheap labour. Employees are afraid to speak out – their supervisors can later punish them for insubordination or even fire them. Notes added to everyday products we buy from these factories are perfect examples – they can’t speak back at home, so they try to scream for help to the consumers in the West. But what if we can give them a place where they can express themselves freely, without the fear of the retaliation of their supervisors?
Technology for the change
Good World Solutions is the company with a clear mission – they want to create safe and respectful workplaces. For all workers, but especially those, who are working in the worst environments possible. How do they want to achieve that? To help with this issues comes data and the rise of mobile technology. Their idea for the betterment of worker well-being is to give them a platform, where they can be finally heard.
To achieve this, they needed the team of skilled developers, with the knowledge and experience of social impact projects. Along the way there were many challenges, that they had to be sure, that will be solved as soon as possible and as best it is possible. The world of workers in South East Asia deserved to have a solution, that could at least change a little bit their world and conditions of their work.
We were incredibly happy when Good World Solutions asked for our help in their mission. We knew we had perfectly fitting abilities and experiences for this job, and if we could help millions of workers in their everyday life – this would make it even better.
Labor Link – app for the factory workers
Solution to this challenge was an app, called Labor Link. Creation of the smartphones was an incredible revolution, that changed the lives of millions of people around the world. Even in the developing world (and especially in South East Asia), adoption of this technology was enormous and spontaneous. Thanks to this we didn’t have to create a whole tool from the start – just use one, that every worker had already in their pockets.
Why an app is the better solution than the others? One of the main reasons is the anonymity. Only this way, workers can express themselves freely, without the fear or pressure from their bosses. Even the most controversial and critical opinions about factories can be said because it is impossible to track, who told it on the app. Paradoxically, this isn’t harmful to the owners in any way – they can see the environment they’ve created in a company they created more realistically, without biases or illusions. Information could be the first step to change the situation for the better. Not all the complains are connected to high costs, some of them are easily fixable, for the betterment of all workers. To properly see, what are the most important issues for workers, they needed data. And a lot of it. So Labor Link became a survey tool, a way that workers can point out, what’s have to change, what is the most important to them, and how they can do it.
Also, the app is a much easier and cheaper solution than the team of auditors, who disturbs (sometimes even for weeks) the work inside the factory. In the case of the app, the feedback is quick and almost instant.
Challenges for us
When SolDevelo was asked for help on this project, the Labor Link was ready for the gathering of the data, but it had some problems with loading it to the system (LabourIQ), that was responsible for analyzing them. Raw data taken from the workers was dangered by contamination from different sources: like from data providers or even by attempts of manipulation. Our work guarantee that all the pieces of information from the workers were loaded into the system in the same form, as they’ve wanted to tell them. Also, our work allowed the LaboutIQ to add the new mobile service providers, allowing the whole system to start working in the new countries and factories.
Still, some of the mobile providers quality of service wasn’t enough for the environment of this app. To check if their services are enough for the Labor Link system, we’ve created Labor Pulse. Thanks to it, we are sure, that the whole project can work on the specific environment, without any delays. If mobile providers aren’t good enough for the system, Pulse will recommend switching to another. This problem is especially significant in developing countries, where mobile connections still aren’t on the same level, as in the Western World.
Reach all around the world
Labor Link has become an incredible success. Before our input in this project, Labor Link worked for about 250 000 workers. In December 2017, after all our inputs in this project, it’s reach quadrupled to almost 400 factories and about 1 097 000 workers in 16 countries. We were especially happy, that many well-known corporations, as The Walt Disney Company or C&A, started to use this solution, to better the working conditions of their employees in factories in South East Asia. This is a great example, how with a little step, we can make this world a better place even to those, who are creating our everyday products hundreds of miles away from our homes.
The story of this project did not end here: Labor Link has become a part of ELEVATE, a supply chain services company. Thanks to these partnerships, this project can reach even more workers around the world, towards slavery-free business in the future.
According to the report “Working Conditions, Work Outcomes, and Policy in Asian Developing Countries”, slowly, but steadily working condition and wages are getting a little better in such countries as Vietnam or Cambodia. Although this is a success of many different factors, we like to think that we’ve added just a little bit to this trend by our coders’ work. We are hoping, that thanks to initiative such as Labor Link we will be able to consume our products, without hurting the most vulnerable people from the countries miles away.
Foundation Leader at SolDevelo Social Impact Foundation. Fascinated about technology, especially when it can help the people, that need it the most. Contact with us on email@example.com