Calling out working conditions

by Maeve Galvin on Apr 18, 2017

A pioneering platform built by LaborVoices Inc., supported by C&A Foundation, has exposed risks and best practices in the Turkish apparel industry by giving workers a chance to speak out about their working conditions, including verbal abuse, cleanliness and hygiene, and working times.

The platform represents a step forward for transparency in our industry. Despite tens of thousands of factory audits every year, there are still very few programmes aimed specifically at capturing the worker experience within those factories.

Worker views were collected anonymously through a toll free phone platform between February and July 2016. A total of 26 Turkish suppliers and 50 production units employing 9,494 workers were involved, with 3,217 workers – a 34 per cent response rate – calling the LaborVoices platform.

Verbal abuse emerged as a worrying trend, with 44 per cent of callers saying they've been affected. Toilet and cafeteria cleanliness was mentioned by 55 per cent of callers, and 38 per cent said they had been made to work 14 days in a row without time off – a clear violation of local labour law.

“While the issues raised are not surprising, it is new and unusual for worker comments on their factory’s conditions to be collected and disclosed to the public – alongside factory names.”

Programme Manager, C&A Foundation Maeve Galvin

Maeve Galvin, C&A Foundation Programme Manager for Working Conditions, says that while the issues raised are not surprising, it is new and unusual for worker comments on their factory's conditions to be collected and disclosed to the public – alongside factory names.

“We know, for example, that verbal abuse is a problem the industry hasn't quite managed to tackle. What is happening in Turkey is unfortunately not unusual – we've seen similar results from our work with Good World Solutions' Laborlink programme in Bangladesh.

“What is encouraging is that around a third of workers took the opportunity to call the LaborVoices platform in Turkey, showing a real appetite to talk about their working conditions when given the chance."

C&A Foundation has been pushing for greater transparency across all levels of the apparel sector for years.

“A lot of the information in our industry exists in a vacuum. Factory audits are carried out in their thousands but the results aren't made public. Putting the results of the LaborVoices programme into the public domain is an important move.

“The more we hear directly from workers, the more pressure brands, retailers and suppliers will feel to take greater accountability for the people who make our clothes."

Kohl Gill, CEO and Founder of LaborVoices says: “Many stakeholders collect data on working conditions in various forms, but there are several constraints.

“This data is rarely worker-sourced, and even if it is, never at this scale. Also, the data almost always lives in silos controlled by one party – often the factory itself. This project shatters all these conventions and aims to create robust competition between suppliers, competition for workers, and competition for buyer customers.

“We hope that real-time worker feedback will help the industry drive improvements at the pace of business – yielding a better working life for the millions of workers making products we all buy."

The data release can be downloaded at http://www.laborvoices.com/symphony_data_release.