Identifying Labour Risks through Worker Engagement

Human trafficking and forced labour are complex problems that ensnare workers across supply chains globally. While victims of forced labour worldwide are estimated at upwards of 24.9 million, it is difficult to accurately map all existing cases, making it hard to grasp the extent of the problem. As Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) become less expensive to manufacture and easier for governments, companies, and other supply chain stakeholders to mainstream, digital tools are increasingly being applied to address complex and intricate global problems such as forced labour. UNU Macau’s Migrant Tech team is being recognized as a leader in this global initiative.

In June, our Principal Research Fellow and Migrant Tech Project Lead, Dr Hannah Thinyane, was invited to share how technology could help identify and address modern slavery through workers’ feedback at a webinar titled “Using Employee Feedback to Assess Working Conditions: Identifying Risks through Worker Engagement” organized by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery and the International Organization on Migration (IOM).

She highlighted our mobile solution, Apprise, as a prime example of how worker voice technology can effectively identify forced labour and ensure that workers’ voices are both central and confidential during social audits to assess, address, and remediate risk and modern slavery across supply chains.

Building Trust during Worker Interviews

Our Migrant Tech team’s early considerations for the Apprise app’s initial design revolved around one of the webinar’s central themes: how to leverage ICTD at nexuses of trust across international supply chains. Through qualitative interviews with local NGOs in Thailand that were combatting labour exploitation across fishery supply chains in late 2019 and early 2020, our team had learned how some NGOs lack sufficient time or resources to train volunteers. In this situation, Apprise intervened as a triage tool; the case management team of the NGO was able to merely hand Apprise off to local community volunteers who share the screen with workers. This will ensure that workers will be sharing their information with someone they see daily as a part of their community – rather than a government inspector – and thereby deepening workers’ trust in Apprise.

Privacy and Inclusiveness From our observations and conversations in the field, many people prefer to participate in interviews through a phone in their language because it makes them feel more in control. For some, it means that they don’t have to look the person in the eye when responding to questions that may have to do with sensitive issues, such as sexual harassment. On identifying gender-based discrimination, Apprise allowed front-line responders to identify two factory workers in Thailand who reported that they took a pregnancy test as part of the factory’s pre-employment health check-up. After auditors followed up on the Apprise responses, both workers confirmed that they took the tests, despite the fact that pregnancy tests were not mandatory aspects of the factory’s employee health check-up requirements.

Key Recommendations

One of the key recommendations for supply chain actors from the webinar was the overwhelming consensus among the speakers that feedback mechanisms for social compliance audits need to be secure, confidential, and accessible. Technology interventions such as Apprise were featured at the webinar’s conclusion as proactive supply-chain interventions that have the potential to mitigate the risk of modern slavery.

More on this webinar can be found here in the brief about the webinar series on Promoting Responsible Recovery: Detecting, Mitigating & Remediating Modern Slavery in Supply Chains.

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About UNU-Macau

The United Nations University Institute in Macau (UNU-Macau) is a research institute at the intersections of information and communication technology (ICT) and international development. UNU-Macau conducts UN policy-relevant research and generates solutions, addressing key issues expressed in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through high-impact innovations and frontier technologies. Through its research, UNU-Macau encourages data-driven and evidence-based actions and policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.