As JIF, we understand that governments and lawmakers are the driving force on the way to demolishing the unfair standards of the garment industry. However, let's recognise that employers are equally responsible for providing the right conditions for their workers even when there is no power forcing them to do so.
This insightful 🖋article by Seshni Moodley offers us a peek into employers' responsibilities to empower workers' voices.
Encouraging employees to speak up isn't enough for the empowerment of workers' voices in the workplace...
Worker rights have been a prevalent issue in recent years due to increased exploitative employment conditions. Workers in the supply chain have been victims of unfair labour practices and unfair distribution of profits. Raising awareness of workers' rights is at the core of the solution to these exploitative employment conditions.
In broad terms, workers' voice means allowing employees to voice their ideas, concerns and perspectives authentically and without fear of social or workplace consequences . IBM research has shown that it is not enough to encourage employees to speak up about topics; employers must actively solicit, analyse and engage in ongoing conversations with past, present and future employees . Surveys are an efficient way to solicit, analyse, and engage in these ongoing conversations. In addition, surveys allow workers to voice their concerns without workplace concerns while allowing employers to act upon the survey results.
As a starting point, employers and lawmakers should understand the significance of providing workers with an efficient platform to voice their opinions and thoughts. From both employee and employers perspective, having a platform leads to an increase in trust, productivity and organisational improvement. In addition, elevating workers' voices makes them feel more valued by their employers and increases job satisfaction .
Covid-19 has been a contributory cause of unhealthy and stressful work environments, and many organisations need mechanisms to rectify this issue. Elevating workers' voices is the most suitable mechanism in many scenarios around the world. Once workers feel valued and given actionable feedback, the morale of the work environment is likely to increase.
The Million Makers initiative is a complementary mechanism to improve workers' voices. This initiative allows workers to take surveys in which they express their concerns and receive compensation for their input. The initiative went on a successful start in India and Bangladesh. The Million Makers structure can be used as an example to increase worker voice within various industries.
Sahyadri Farms is an example of an organisation that successfully implemented this initiative . Sahyadri Farms focus on the cotton industry, which is the typical starting point of the fashion industry. One of these reoccurring issues within this organisation was the profit sharing and payment of workers. Payment within supply chains is a core element of supply chain exploitation. The Million Makers aided this issue by elevating workers' voices, allowing Sahyadri Farms to hear the concerns of their employees and giving the employer space to find a solution. As a result, the initiative led to an increase in worker satisfaction and productivity within the organisation.
The Million Makers initiative follows a process in which workers complete surveys every five days and get paid fairly for providing the survey data. In offering this compensation, workers are encouraged to tell their friends and colleagues to participate in the survey causing a snowball effect across other organisations. This snowball effect has expanded awareness of workers' voices amongst many farming and garment manufacturing businesses. Other advantages of this initiative are more engaged workers, a happier and healthier work environment and empowered workers with the help of their employers.
As you know, there have been various issues regarding unfair supply chain practices in Leicester garment and textile industry. An initiative like the one deployed in India could present a way to monitor the income and workplace treatment of garment workers who fall into a similar category of vulnerability, just like farm workers.
The evergrowing consumer awareness of fashion workers' and farmers' rights issues helped generate growing interest towards the initiatives like these. Furthermore, thanks to this growing awareness, employers' desire to build more engaged and productive workforces has drastically increased the need to elevate workers' voices within their businesses. The initiatives such as The Million Makers will allow organisations to actively engage and solicit employee data to focus on much-needed positive developments within the garment industry.
The effectiveness and potential applicability of worker surveys to positively impact worker's rights can be seen in the research jointly published by Leicester Garment and Textile Workers Trust and Nottingham University Rights Lab. This research provides us with the drivers of exploitation and offers manufacturers and brands priorities for change. Leicester Garment and Textile Workers Trust commissioned this research amid breaking news on extremely unsatisfactory and unfair working conditions in BooHoo PLC's supply chain.