There aren't many people alive today who don't remember the devastation of the Rana Plaza collapse with the thousands of garment workers trapped inside. Seemingly just another day at work, their lives were changed forever. But has anything really changed? Did this event wake people up to the often concealed, hazardous working conditions garment workers have to endure on a daily basis? Did it prompt people to act swiftly to put change into effect? How can we ensure that we are buying ethically from companies who treat their workers well?
There might just be a way to get the answer. Online auditing tools like Intertek's Tradegood offers buyers access to information about suppliers, including company profiles, quality compliance and reputational issues. The Labor Link technology is used to investigate the background of companies and will in the future use it to hear the voices of those who are doing the work on their garments.
Labor Link says that they leverage more than "4.5bn mobile subscriptions in the developing world to connect the workers that produce our food, clothing, and electronics with the companies that buy them." They are currently gathering data and feedback from more than twenty thousand workers. These employees directly relate the kinds of conditions they work in as well as the pay that they get for their work. Four different surveys are taken each year, all at no cost for the worker.
Marks and Spencer suppliers will take the data at a very nominal cost to them and use it to help provide better working conditions for workers around the globe, as well as to educate people about where their garments come from and the conditions under which they are made. Fiona Sadler, head of ethical sourcing at M&S, said: "This is a breakthrough for us and moves workplace communication into the digital era. It's not about checking up on our suppliers; it's about making sure we're doing the right things for the workers in our supply chain and giving them a voice."
Can this new technology create dramatic change in the garment industry? We can only hope so. This is just a small step in the right direction, but it signifies much bigger changes ahead. It's time we, as an industry, take a good look at the people who are supplying us and make sure that they are not relying on labor that is bought cheaply from people who are simply trying to survive.
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