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Question: Which NGOs and local community partners have an effective track record of helping companies scale their efforts to improve the lives of factory workers?

avatar Evaydee Perez
DR Consultant

“Companies have realized that complying with labor legislation alone is not enough to foster productivity and achieve sustainability. They have redirected strategies and managerial initiatives towards approaches that improve living conditions of workers and their families. In developing countries like the Dominican Republic, several NGOs like CIPAF are working with different free zone businesses to conduct research that aims to improve workers’ quality of life and to increase productivity. The transition from “research” to “action” is difficult, since changing cultural and thinking takes time, money, effort, and will. One local example of a company focusing on actionable change is Knights Apparel, which is working with residents of the Villa Altagracia community to increase wages and transform the community’s economy.”

avatar Dan Viederman
Verite

“What workers want most is good wages earned in a safe workplace. The best way to achieve this at scale is to ensure that rights are respected throughout company business operations by involving NGOs in supply chain implementation, not simply as ‘after the fact’ social welfare providers.

How? Integrate NGOs into the analysis of procurement, pricing, budgeting and hiring which define whether positive change is possible, as Verité, the FLA and ETI are doing. Ensure that social audits have workers at their center, like COVERCO’s. Build worker ownership of working conditions, as in Verité’s China collaboration with Timberland. Train workers on rights and life skills like the Panyu (China) Migrant Workers Documentation Handling Service Center.”

avatar Racheal Yeager
BSR

“The most innovative partnerships depend on effective collaboration with impactful local organizations and individuals—the only way to create effective and sustainable change is through locally-driven partnerships. BSR’s HERproject, a program that Timberland participates in, has worked with many local organizations, including women’s health and rights NGOs, like Awaj Foundation (Bangladesh) and Life Centre (Vietnam); international NGOs, like Marie Stopes International (China and Vietnam branches); universities’ Departments of Community Health, like Aga Khan University (Pakistan), and St. John’s Medical College (India); and local government bodies, such as provincial Women’s Federations (China), and the regional Population Welfare Department (Pakistan). Groups like these have helped insure our factory-based women’s health program is locally relevant, replicable, and sustainable.”

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  1. This is an important question. With supply chains extending throughout the developing world, companies can access the vast majority of the world’s working poor.

    As many people have rightly said there is no shortage of community organizations that are willing to partner with companies on improving the livelihoods of workers in the supply chain – but many of them lack the capacity or experience to maximize impact and scale up efforts.

    At BSR, we recently partnered with Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) for a roundtable on bringing access to finance to workers in the supply chain. MFO has developed a financial education curriculum targeted at low-income households that focuses on topics such as saving and budgeting, and using formal banking services. What’s most important about their approach is that they use a “train the trainer” model to build capacity among local service providers so that training is relevant and delivered in the most effective way.

  2. Thanks Libby and Lydia for your comments and appreciation.

    ASK has been engaged in work with factories on the ground since 1998. One of our important learning’s has been that impact on the lives of the factory workers is a resultant of commitment from the brand, visioning of the factory management , a committed catalyst NGO or community partner and the engagement with the workers.

    We have seen many examples of our work with factories where all the different players have played their role effectively and the impact is visible. The work on financial inclusion by the Primark is one such example of brand’s commitment of launching a need based and appropriate intervention which will impact the workers lives immensely.

    In another example, ASK has worked with visionary factory management who have realized that their workers happiness and satisfaction is directly linked to their business growth. A concrete example of their commitment is a beautiful child care centre they have inaugurated recently in their factory premise based in South India.

    Along with commitment, the NGO has to have the necessary skills to engage with the workers at their pace, stimulate them and build their capacity to contribute towards their own and their company’s growth and development.

  3. Timberland poses a very interesting and valuable question about scalability and sustainability, particularly within the areas of microcredit / savings.

    Primark has been working on a financial inclusion programme with Geosansar in India, opening hundreds of bank accounts and providing financial education and awareness building for workers in garments factories.

    We worked with ASK at the initial stages of the programme to evaluate whether workers wanted a banking product, and if they did, how they wanted it to be delivered. ASK’s local expertise, combined with their global perspective on social and development issues meant their work was invaluable in helping us tailor the programme to make it truly effective. This combination of local & global is important in being able to create sustainable and scalable solutions to the challenges we face.

    Scaling up the learning and experience from our first year has led us to look more closely at the financial education we’re providing for workers, from why a bank account makes sense and how to use it, to how to evaluate a range of financial products and assess which one is the right one for them.

    This is new ground for us, outside of the typical scope of supply chain issues, and organisations such as the IFC, Global Fairness Initiative, and Microfinance Opportunities have been instrumental in helping us think through how we approach this aspect of our programme, and how we start to track and measure the impacts of financial inclusion – particularly on financial independence and empowerment of women, and improvement in workers’ livelihoods.

  4. It is important to measure worker livelihoods through their own eyes and perspectives. Through a rights-based approach, Oxfam America works with local partners, community members and workers to get a better understanding of key issues and impacts, and create worker-focused initiatives that can improve lives inside and outside the factory. By joining forces and resources with others who work towards the same goal and have specific competencies, we are able to jointly strategize, plan, implement, and learn about progress. Measuring and acting on social impacts in this way allows us to better focus on leverage points to make wider change happen.

    While adhering to labor laws and codes of conduct is critical, looking more deeply beyond these measures of compliance in areas such as empowerment and gender and diversity, allows for much more robust and meaningful programming. Oxfam America recently conducted a poverty footprint of the Coca-Cola/SABMiller value chains in El Salvador and Zambia to measure social impacts throughout the system including at the local bottling facilities. Local partners, researchers and workers were vital to gaining important insights into key areas – e. g. health, education, right to organize, safety, wages, power-relations, etc. – all of which are impacting livelihoods through the workplace.

  5. What a great question! At the heart of successful sustainability initiatives are local community people and organizations that care about their communities, that want to improve living and working conditions for themselves and their families, that want to improve access to the essentials–health, water, food, education, respect for human rights and continuous improvement in the quality of life. Local and regional non-governmental organizations have developed strong networks that bring knowledge and commitment to the table. Often the best NGOs and local partners are not the best funded nor the most experienced working with corporate partners. But they can help challenge widely-held assumptions and over time creatively shape solutions that make sense in the local context and make a difference in improving the quality of factory life and the sustainability of communities.

    There are a number of networks that are global in scope which have local partners that can make a difference in improving the lives of factory workers. Here’s a sampling; GoodElectronics, an international network of human rights and sustainability in Electronics- http://www.thevillager.com/villager_317/newstmarkspastor.html; International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), with over 160 local human rights groups involved on range of issues including women’s rights and migrant rights–http://www.fidh.org/-english-; and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) which has regional and local affiliates and plays a role in identifying worker issues in beverage plants, for example, notifying companies about issues before they become serious crises-http://cms.iuf.org/. There are partners or potential partners that can develop systemic solutions that can be replicated (with some flexibility) in other factories and communities through shared learning.

  6. Verité is working on tough labor issues, with a special focus on forced labor, in India and Bangladesh with our long-time partners ASK and Sheva.

    ASK – We joined forces with the CSR Unit of ASK over a decade ago and continue to be gratified and impressed by the effectiveness of their training and the innovation they bring to chronic supply chain problems. Their early investigation into Sumangali abuses brought the issue to the attention of our clients five years ago and ASK’s follow on research drew the picture of both the seriousness and complexity of these issues in our 2010 report: Help Wanted: Hiring, Human Trafficking and Slavery in the Global Economy (http://www.verite.org/Reports/HelpWanted). The ASK team is currently researching sending mechanisms in Nepal. We’re excited to be launching a significant project together in Tirapur this summer to demonstrate business solutions to forced labor risk and piloting of ethical brokerage standards. We will also be continuing our worker empowerment program, as well as auditor and supplier training in Verite’s Systems Approach to Social Responsibility (VSA).

    Sheva – Dhaka-based Sheva has been a long-time partner of Verité in Bangladesh, conducting worker-focused audits, factory remediation consulting, and worker training, for ten years. Sheva’s decentralized, community-based structure allows for large-scale interventions to advance the knowledge and welfare of workers and their communities. For one project Sheva trained 13,000 garment workers on healthcare, rights, responsibilities and life skills. Sheva’s micro-credit program was launched in 1994 among slum dwellers (to date, Sheva has disbursed US$13 million with a loan recovery rate of 99%) and today leverages its broad micro-credit network of 14,0000 borrowers in offering other support services. Organized into 11 branches with 60 community learning and resource centers in each branch, Sheva’s borrower help to implement Sheva’s childcare programs for working women, awareness training on dowry-related violence women, literacy workshops and other initiatives.

  7. Businesses are global, and the laws that factories operate in are local— but how can you keep your ear to the ground from all levels of the supply chain? Establishing partnerships with locally-based organizations is an effective way to foster sustainability and ensure a project’s integrity after the training is over. Although national labor laws are protective of workers, enforcement can oftentimes be hindered by capacity constraints in labor inspectorates and producers’ lack of access to support structures. Social Accountability International’s (SAI) work in India aims to address these issues through two development partnerships to build the capacity of India-based suppliers through training and to enhance local infrastructure to reach smaller companies. Through “Scaling Up Indian Responsible Business Initiatives” and “RAGS,” SAI is leveraging the participation of both global and local partners— Timberland, Prakruthi, the Ethical Trading Initiative with its National Homeworkers Group, Gap Inc., Tchibo GmbH, PGC Switcher, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), UKAID (DFID) and BSCI— to improve the lives of factory workers by enabling Indian producers of all sizes to access relevant and affordable responsible business related trainings and technical assistance to improve their social performance.

  8. The good news is that there are hundreds, even thousands, of NGOs and community organizations whose mission is to assist factory and farm communities today. These organizations bring local knowledge and experience to the table, along with the trust of local stakeholders. The bad news is that many of these organizations lack the capacity or the experience to create interventions that last.

    One positive example that I have witnessed is Phulki, a NGO in Bangladesh that is dedicated to promoting the rights of women and children. Phulki has found an important ‘sweet spot’ between their role as advocate for women and children on the one hand and their role as provider of services to enterprises in the form of day care centers on the other.

    The result? Women are increasingly economically independent and their children are given a safe and enriching environment in which they can learn and grow.

  9. Sustainable solutions to address societal infrastructure gaps for workers’ basic needs to be met and betterment opportunities to be available to them are complex — requiring multiple voices, many commitments, patience, collaboration and resolve. Timberland is seeking assistance to address social disparities identified within our supply chain. In 2011 we seek to create projects that give workers access to micro-credit/savings, child care, life skills training and HIV/AIDS awareness and services. We’re starting this work in India, Bangladesh and China (see http://www.timberland.com/BeyondFactoryWalls2009 for other work we’ve done in this arena in other regions). We would love to know of international or regional NGOs we should reach out to – please share your ideas here.

  10. avatar Sticky Evaydee Perez - DR Consultant,

    Companies have realized that complying with labor legislation alone is not enough to foster productivity and achieve sustainability. They have redirected strategies and managerial initiatives towards approaches that improve living conditions of workers and their families. In developing countries like the Dominican Republic, several NGOs like CIPAF are working with different free zone businesses to conduct research that aims to improve workers’ quality of life and to increase productivity. The transition from “research” to “action” is difficult, since changing cultural and thinking takes time, money, effort, and will. One local example of a company focusing on actionable change is Knights Apparel, which is working with residents of the Villa Altagracia community to increase wages and transform the community’s economy.

  11. What workers want most is good wages earned in a safe workplace. The best way to achieve this at scale is to ensure that rights are respected throughout company business operations by involving NGOs in supply chain implementation, not simply as ‘after the fact’ social welfare providers.

    How? Integrate NGOs into the analysis of procurement, pricing, budgeting and hiring which define whether positive change is possible, as Verité, the FLA and ETI are doing. Ensure that social audits have workers at their center, like COVERCO’s. Build worker ownership of working conditions, as in Verité’s China collaboration with Timberland. Train workers on rights and life skills like the Panyu (China) Migrant Workers Documentation Handling Service Center.

  12. The most innovative partnerships depend on effective collaboration with impactful local organizations and individuals—the only way to create effective and sustainable change is through locally-driven partnerships. BSR’s HERproject, a program that Timberland participates in, has worked with many local organizations, including women’s health and rights NGOs, like Awaj Foundation (Bangladesh) and Life Centre (Vietnam); international NGOs, like Marie Stopes International (China and Vietnam branches); universities’ Departments of Community Health, like Aga Khan University (Pakistan), and St. John’s Medical College (India); and local government bodies, such as provincial Women’s Federations (China), and the regional Population Welfare Department (Pakistan). Groups like these have helped insure our factory-based women’s health program is locally relevant, replicable, and sustainable.

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