‘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

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 organising to address labour risks and strengthen remediation in global supply chains.
Project status

Recognising the proliferation of new technological platforms that seek to capture 'worker voice' and labour exploitation across global supply chains, this project was geared towards understanding the various opportunities and constraints of different tech platforms in seven countries in Asia and the Americas. The research sought to complicate the premise that all 'worker voice' approaches are not the same, nor are they necessarily achieved through the same mechanisms as worker organising. Through qualitative case studies of ten technology-enabled 'worker voice' projects, the team generated a typology of different methods of 'worker voice', ranging from 'bottom up' worker-led strategies to 'top down' business, and non-profit enterprises for supply chain accountability.

The research findings have important implications for policy. The global proliferation of mobile-phone-based technologies in countries producing goods for global export - including SMS, smartphone apps, hotlines, polls, and other methods - offers exciting opportunities for collecting worker feedback to support corporate responsible sourcing. However, such technologies vary based on their fundamental relationship with, and commitment to, workers and businesses, which leads to varying impacts on workers’ lives. The research team has proposed a typology of 'worker voice' apps: i) due diligence-oriented technology tools, and ii) empowerment-oriented tools. Due diligence-oriented technology tools were found to help control risk in supply-chain hotspots, but rarely identified modern slavery due to gaining little trust from workers, and also due to business clients not being ready to expose or address modern slavery. Empowerment-oriented worker feedback tools tended to regularly identify modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking, and assist exploited workers, but most had no connection to businesses' due diligence. 

Key ethical concerns were exposed as well, including the burden that some technology tools place on worker respondents, with insufficient benefits and safeguards to those vulnerable informant populations. The research findings suggest that tech-driven approaches to supply chain management must partner with a suite of worker-centred organisations so that new streams of funding do not displace 'traditional' labour organising in finding and addressing labour abuse. The project team has suggested that 'worker voice' should prioritise the role of workers into anti-trafficking interventions, rather than the business-run due diligence models.

Principal Investigator: Dr Elena Shih, Brown University

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