Global corporations test worker voice technology in Thai factories
Hong Kong, 11 March 2019
The Mekong Club, an anti-slavery NGO; the United Nations University, Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS), a U.N. research think tank, and the global companies VF Corporation and Li & Fung have joined forces to test an innovative workers’ voice app called Apprise Audit in factories in Thailand this month.
Apprise Audit’s goal is to enhance worker interviews during social audits – by increasing frequency, inclusivity, confidentiality and consistency of worker screening. The app allows questions in multiple languages to be asked through audio recordings, answered through a smartphone and saved on a server.
Research conducted by UNU-CS and the Mekong Club on the ground with 170 anti-trafficking front-line responders and over 200 social auditors has uncovered a number of obstacles to worker screening, which the app aims to help overcome. For example, 71% of the auditors surveyed stated that they select workers for screening based on language capability, and an overwhelming majority (95%) stated that they speak one or two languages at most, meaning they often cannot reach out to migrants who speak another language. The same study uncovered that workers are often interviewed in groups, or near their managers and supervisors, so they will not talk to strangers and share their stories for fear of being punished.
During field research, a female worker who used to work in a seafood processing factory shared that she worked in the factory for 6 years doing over 4 hours of overtime a day, but never got compensated for it. She was told by her employer to lie to labour inspectors, and the employer would always be there to listen to what she said. She said she wished the labour inspector could have used a mobile app such as Apprise Audit when visiting factories, so that no one could hear her answers, or track the answers back to her, since the data collected by the app is anonymous. “No one wants to get in trouble by telling the truth but they all need help,” she said.
Silvia Mera, Program Director at the Mekong Club, said: “Apprise Audit offers a time- and cost-effective way to interview workers. We are eager to test the app in the field and gather both social auditors’ and workers’ feedback to further advance this solution.”
Dr. Hannah Thinyane, Principal Research Fellow at UNU-CS, said: “Apprise Audit is a simple, yet effective way to empower workers to communicate with auditors. We do not aim at replacing in-person interviews, rather offer one more tool to make these interviews more thorough.”
The app is also currently being tested in Vietnam and China by four major companies – VF Corporation and Li & Fung are two of them.
Kyle Bogler, General Compliance Manager – Asia at VF Corporation, said, “We are excited to see how this technology might help our field teams to gain insights into a sub-group of people who have historically been overlooked or underrepresented due to language barriers. Gaining these understandings and building effective remediation plans gives VF Corporation further opportunities to have a positive impact on the people and communities around the world.”
Impact results from the pilot will be shared once the test phase concludes at the end of March 2019.
Silvia Mera, Program Director, The Mekong Club