“Workers were too afraid to talk, but they all needed help,” For six years, Piya – a Thai worker and former employee of a processing factory in Southeast Asia – did four hours of daily unpaid overtime. She never asked for additional pay or spoke out against her supervisor, too worried that she would be fired. A new report published by The Mekong Club and the United Nations University Institute in Macau (UNU-Macau) via Compliancecosmos.org surveyed social auditors – a 50-billion-dollar industry – working in 16 Asian countries. As the number of modern slavery victims in private economies with stories like Piya’s is estimated at 16 million, audit worker interviews are a critical pathway for a worker’s voice to reach corporate headquarters. The new report unveiled flaws in interview methods used across mobile apps. The most common flaws cited in the brief are time constraints during factory visits, the lack of privacy during interviews, workers appearing to be coached and not feeling safe enough to speak out, communication and language barriers, and a lack of consistent worker voice analysis methods. The report found that these flaws lead to an overall lack of frequency, privacy, confidentiality and consistency in workers’ interviews during social compliance audits. Therefore victims—and exploitative factories—slip under the radar.
The report chose to analyze mobile apps because of their consistent data collection and storage methods. However, it is unclear whether they can be representative of a diverse workforce, or whether the findings of these apps will actually allow for further investigation of reported issues to ultimately help workers leave an exploitative situation. The report contextualized this new data set within existing studies provided by West Principles, Open Society Foundation, the Issara Institute, and former UNU-Macau projects.
The article concludes that technology must be developed and implemented with caution, with preassessments of existing capacity and respect for current ecologies of communication among the communities where it is implemented.
The Apprise Audit project is a partnership and close collaboration between UNU-Macau, The Mekong Club, and brands working in global supply chains to end modern slavery and support the achievement of the sustainable development goals, particularly goals 8 and 17.
The report, “Amplifying workers' voices through technology to uncover modern slavery,” is available here: https://bit.ly/2VqVyOv.
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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.
About The Mekong Club
The Mekong Club is an anti-slavery non-profit with a focus on business engagement. The vision of the Mekong Club is to harness the power of the private sector to change business practice in a way that will significantly reduce modern slavery, and to act as a catalyst for change, engaging and inspiring corporations to lead in the fight against this global crime. The Mekong Club works with companies from several sectors through a business association model and has delivered several tools to support anti-slavery efforts across global supply chains.