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‘Worker Voice’ as a Means to Strengthen Remediation and Due Diligence, Identify Labour Risks, and Go Beyond Social Auditing: a Critical Analysis of Existing Models in Asia and Latin America

Principal Investigator: Dr Elena Shih, Brown University

Co-Investigator: Dr Lisa Maria Rende Taylor, Issara Institute

'Worker voice' has emerged as a recent, often technology-enabled, approach to responsible sourcing with the potential to achieve two critical ends: first, the collection of more and better data for supply chain due diligence and detection of labour risks; and, second, the empowerment of workers, to better hear their feedback and strengthen remediation accordingly. Recent critical reviews of supply chain management strategies have noted their displacement of "traditional" labour organizing in finding and addressing labour abuses; thus, new developments in worker voice hold tremendous potential to reintroduce the role of workers and not just business-run due diligence to improve worker lives and treatment.

However, not all worker voice approaches are the same, and are not achieved through the same mechanisms as worker organizing. Some are run by technology businesses, sweeping migrant communities with polls and selling the information to businesses aiming to improve their due diligence. Others aim to empower migrant workers by offering platforms to exchange, rate, and review employers, helping workers to find the best job options – sometimes aiming to integrate with business due diligence, but defining their value more by how empowering they are and not by how well they mitigate business risk. Some collect point-in-time data while others collect data on an ongoing basis, allowing for data verification. Some safeguard against risk of reprisal for workers sharing negative feedback, while others do not.

This research aims to study the effectiveness of different worker voice models around the world, compare effectiveness with social audits, and make recommendations to businesses and donors for minimum standards for ethical, effective approaches to empowering worker voice and/or organizing to address labour risks and strengthen remediation in global supply chains. Supplementing case studies of 8 worker voice programs and technologies with 8 case studies of innovative worker organizing in Asia and Latin America, this study will offer a typology of different kinds of worker engagement ranging from “bottom up” worker-led strategies to “top down” business, and non-profit enterprises for supply chain accountability.

Issara Global Forum, November 8-10, 2017

Co-PI’s Lisa Rende-Taylor (Issara Institute) and Elena Shih (Brown University) kicked off this collaborative project at Issara’s annual Global Forum held in Bangkok November 8-10, 2017. This global convening reflects Issara’s unique capacity and vision to bring together different supply chain stakeholders including: migrant workers, trafficking survivors, labor recruiters, civil society organizations, government representatives, technology platforms, and representatives from multinational corporations engaged in responsible sourcing and supplier management. With our research questions in mind, we integrated a Town Hall discussion to evaluate the different ethical constraints of technology-based platforms for worker voice.


Co-PI Lisa Rende Taylor (4th from left) along with other scholars and practitioners in technology-enabled worker voice and worker feedback – Antoine Heuty, Ulula; Heather Franzese, LaborLine/ELEGATE, Laurie Berg, University of Technology, Sydney; Lisa Rende Taylor, Issara Institute; and Julia Coburn, Centro de los Direchos del Migrante (CDM)

Issara Myanmar Country Director Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw in discussion with Permanent Secretary of Myanmar's Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, U Myo Aung, and Doug Nystrom (Walmart) 

Co-PI Elena Shih leads a town hall discussion on the ethics of technology-enabled worker voice.


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