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?
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.
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.
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.