In Quarter 1 2022, Labor Solutions worked with a factory and brand to identify human rights challenges and then create a remediation and prevention strategy to bring all stakeholders in compliance with the new and pending Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) laws.
Labor Solutions' supplier-ownership model meant the factory management was engaged in the process and took the lead on improvements and prevention strategies, allowing the brand to focus efforts elsewhere.
Here's what happened:
Photo Credit: Quartz
HRDD always starts by assessing risks and understanding where more focus is needed. High production rates keep apparel and garment factories keep competitive, but have a significant, silent toll on workers’ physical health. A survey conducted in India revealed that almost 80% of sewing workers had lower back problems and 62% had shoulder pain. Repetitive activities in incorrect postures or poorly designed workstations lead to muscle pain and injuries to wrist, shoulders, neck and back for workers.
Protecting workers' health, safety and wellbeing is key to protecting their human rights. Our assessment indicated health and safety should be a focus of identification efforts in Indian factories.
To understand specific health and safety issues at each factory and to provide clear improvement plans, Labor Solutions worked with management teams to conduct a Worker Engagement and Wellbeing Survey (EWB) using Labor Solutions’ WOVO platform.
Thirty percent (30%) of the respondents reported the workplace negatively affected their health. The workers also reported not knowing how to access management to report such an issue. A 30% report rate indicates an institutional or structural issue, not an individual event or isolated issue.
This issue had no presented itself in the annual health and safety audits, so it surprised factory management.
The Labor Solutions Client Advisory team worked with factory management on an action plan to identify the root cause of the health issue. From our assessment we knew that ergonomics might be key health and safety complaints. The Labor Solutions team conducted a focus group discussion and an in-depth health and ergonomics survey.
The FGD and survey found workers were experiencing back and shoulder pain because factory workstations were placed too low. But workers had been hesitant to report the issue to management as they didn’t associate the risk to their health with their workstations.
Understanding a health and safety solution requires accuracy. Labor Solutions also suggested the factory to conduct on an ergonomic study of the workstations.
HRDD laws require once an issue is identified that remediation is taken. Since Labor Solutions employs an employer- engagement strategy throughout the HRDD process, the factory management was eager to take ownership of the problem and make changes. The brand did not need to get involved.
Working with Labor Solutions' advisors the management team created a clear improvement strategy which included a series of actions to mitigate adverse impacts in short term and put a system in place for long-term improvement:
Factory management increased the height of workstations by 5 cm
Workers were provided with mats to stand on while working
Prevention: A Strategy to Communicate More Often with Workers
The regulations also mandate that preventive action be taken to addressed the identified issues. It was clear audits alone were ineffective at identifying issues and the factory management needed to take another approach (as did the brand). Since workers wanted to report the issue earlier but reported lacking a clear path, the factory management was keen to implement a more holistic worker communication channel.
The factory implemented the following prevention strategies:
WOVO’s Connect feature was set up as a highly accessible and safe channel for workers to speak about their concerns directly with management
Line leaders and supervisors were trained to trained on responding to workers timely and empathetically, either addressing in the morning meetings with the workers or directly via WOVO
The factory management set up buddy groups for mutual support, where workers can discuss general issues faced by them at work and bring this to the attention of the management
Reporting and Tracking Progress Using Surveys
Reporting and tracking are key to all HRDD regulations. Labor Solution's unlimited survey function allowed the brand and factory to conduct surveys to track progress and worker feedback on changes.
Six months after these improvement actions were initiated, the factory conducted the same survey again and saw a 44% reduction in the percentage reporting negative health impact to workplace and a significant increase in health & safety satisfaction score (from 43.5 to 77.2 out of 100).
Now, the factory management’s goal is to ensure no workers’ health is affected by their workplace and continue to monitor the implementation of the Improvement Plan, continuously modifying via ongoing feedback from workers.