Social auditing is one of the fundamental ways in which the private sector monitor their supply chains for potential labour exploitation and abuse. Frequent audits allow for a trained professional to visit a factory to check the working conditions. Auditors speak to workers and managers about any grievances or concerns that they may have, interviewing them as part of a wider audit process. This exercise is heavily relied upon by companies, and may be the only opportunity for a worker within that facility to raise any issues or speak to an outside representative to help to resolve situations of labour exploitation.
What happens when travelling to these factories becomes impossible due to Covid-19 restrictions?
How can workers continue to be reached and supported at such a crucial time?
In collaboration with United Nations Macau Institute, we have developed the Apprise Audit platform. This is a smartphone application that is installed onto the mobile phone or tablet of a social auditor. When they go into a factory they are able to present this app to a worker, who can then use the platform to answer a series of questions, via a headset, in their own language. This app combats common problems facing social auditors when looking to interview workers in a typical factory setting, such as language barriers, lack of privacy, literacy issues, and lack of data collection standardisation. This solution however, assumed that the social auditor would be present in the factory. When Covid-19 hit, we were suddenly faced with travel restrictions combined with an increased concern for the safety and wellbeing of workers. We needed to rethink our approach as the companies and auditors using platforms such as Apprise Audit searched for solutions to this unforeseen situation.
A worker responds to the Apprise Audit questionnaire via the smartphone app.
We have added functionality to the Apprise Audit platform in order to reach workers that cannot be reached physically during Covid-19. The new functionality now allows for questions to be delivered using the very same platform, in the workers’ own language, via a QR code. Workers can be sent the QR code, or it can be displayed in an accessible location, such as the toilets and/or canteen in the factory, and they can complete the questionnaire in their own time. We are able to identify that individual responses are being submitted by workers by analysing the IP addresses of their responses. This measure allows us to identify if the same device is being used multiple times to answer the questionnaire. As part of these adaptations, we have also developed a specific set of questions related to Covid-19, to allow for Covid-19 specific risk factors to be identified.
Apprise Audit is a collaborative project between Mekong Club & United Nations University Macau Institute
Gathering worker information at this time is crucial. As Covid-19 heightens modern slavery vulnerabilities, particularly within migrant worker communities, ensuring that workers still have a voice is imperative. The more workers we can reach, and the more data we can collect, the more we can also understand the longer-term impacts on worker vulnerabilities to modern slavery during this time and beyond. We also hope that our work in this space will inform the development of remote auditing technologies and approaches beyond Covid-19, to ensure that the global community can react should future circumstances force the need for remote auditing ever again.
Photo by fran hogan on Unsplash
Contact us at [email protected] to find out more about our modern slavery audit tool, including the remote auditing capabilities.
Author – Phoebe Ewen