Supply chain factories are often located in emerging countries with low labor costs and few protections for workers. In these settings, challenges like unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices are the norm. For women, who represent a majority of the factory workforce in many segments, the challenges are even greater.
According to a United Nation’s Global Compact Group report, women working in factories are often subjected to verbal abuse, unfair labor practices, sexual harassment and other forms of violence. The “Our Voices, Our Safety” publication by the International Labor Rights Forum adds that factory workers are often hesitant to report exploitive and dangerous working conditions out of fear of retaliation, including losing their job. And in some countries, where subordination of women is the norm, social and cultural practices discourage women from speaking out.
Against this backdrop, major manufacturers are taking steps to protect workers by requiring that supply chain factories meet set standards for worker safety and wellbeing. Workplace Options’ Labor Solutions team is playing an important role in this effort with the development of WOVO. A mobile phone-based technology platform, WOVO provides workers with a variety of resources and tools designed to address their health, safety and wellbeing needs, including the following:
A safer work environment
The International Labor Rights Forum estimates that globally between 40 and 50 percent of women experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. In the garment industry, where three fourths of the workers are women, sexual harassment is rampant, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch. It’s also under-reported due to fears of disbelief, blame, or social or professional retaliation. The report also argues that social audits currently being conducted in some supply chain factories are largely ineffective at uncovering harassment because they fail to protect worker confidentiality.
WOVO’s anonymous reporting features and survey tools allow supply chain workers to maintain confidentiality while reporting unsafe working conditions, harassment and abuse. With WOVO, workers are able to use their mobile phones to anonymously text concerns or threats directly to human resource representatives. Through WOVO’s 2-way anonymous communication feature, factory representatives are also able to respond back, while maintaining workers’ anonymity. In addition, workers’ concerns and factories’ actions are logged and can be analyzed using WOVO’s robust reporting system.
Professional and personal development opportunities
Supply chain workers in poor countries often have limited access to education. This is especially true of women. However, through WOVO employees can access both professional and personal digital training modules on a variety of topics.
WOVO’s digital training platform can remove bias and democratize professional development by allowing workers to select trainings, as opposed to traditional training programs where workers have to be selected in order to participate. Also, management can track professional training course completions through WOVO, which can make the process of rewarding or promoting workers less subjective.
Digital training also empowers women, as they have the freedom to select subjects of their own choosing. In addition to professional development, WOVO offers courses for personal development and wellbeing. Approximately 80% of WOVO’s users are women, and popular personal wellbeing topics include pregnancy and women’s health, parenting, elder care, relationship support and finances. These trainings can benefit the entire family, in addition to helping women better themselves through ongoing education.
Personal and professional coaching support
Through WOVO, workers can reach out via smart phone app or SMS to local, qualified coaches trained to respond to professional and personal wellbeing issues. For example, one worker in her 33rd week of pregnancy, reached out to a coach through WOVO because she was wasn’t sleeping well due to headaches and hypertension. The coach encouraged the woman to visit her doctor and helped her put together a list of questions. After following the coach’s advice, the woman was hospitalized for delivery. After her baby was born, ongoing support was provided including lactation support and information related to newborn milestones.