Brands have identified labor recruitment as one of the riskiest parts of their supply chains, and rightly so. Human trafficking, forced labor and wage theft often have their origin in recruiting practices.
It is enough of a challenge to trace products back to the factory or farm, but to also take responsibility for cleaning up the recruitment supply chains might feel overwhelming. Brands are also realizing the limitations of a brief annual audit in detecting and remedying labor violations, especially those related to human trafficking, since intimidation and silence are par for the course.
More thorough audits could help if they reach far enough back into the recruitment chain, but that approach is costly and of limited efficacy. Smartphone adoption in emerging markets offers a new opportunity to put the power in the hands of the workers to choose better recruiters and employers and to flag labor violations.
Smartphone usage grew 76 percent between 2013 and 2015 in emerging markets, and has grown rapidly since. Mexico now has 63 percent smartphone penetration. In our 2017 field surveys, we found that half of farmworkers in Mexico had smartphones, and nearly 90 percent of farmworkers in the US had smartphones.
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When Sri Artham and I co-founded Ganaz, we felt that if we design technology tools that address the pain points of the employer as well as the worker, we could use the self-interest of both parties to make supply chains more transparent.
Pain points of agricultural employers include:
- Recruiting labor
- Retaining seasonal labor, especially since many change their phone numbers almost yearly
- Communicating with large, dispersed crews that sometimes don’t speak the same language
- Knowing what’s really going on between foremen and workers and between recruiters and workers
Pain points on the worker side include:
- Not knowing the full range of employment options
- Not being able to verify claims of recruiters
- Not asking or not getting sufficient information about conditions other than wages, such as supervisor treatment, quality of housing and bathrooms, and benefits.
Our app, called Ganaz — which means “you earn” or “you win” in Spanish — enables employers to recruit, retain and communicate with a multilingual workforce. It also allows workers to compare job openings and review employers so that others can benefit from those crowdsourced reviews. We are building on the work of organizations such as Labor Link and LaborVoices to engage workers as active participants in improving supply chains.
We began our test in Hood River, Oregon with cherry, pear and blueberry growers, and we are now expanding nationwide. Our vision is to create a sort of Glassdoor or Yelp for low-wage workers around the world — on farms, in factories, on seafood vessels and in mines. Employers can see how they rank against their peers on wages, supervisor treatment, health and safety, and honesty in recruitment. Brands will be able to then monitor their supply chains with data sourced directly from workers — rather than having to rely solely on annual audits.
Through the creation of our app, we have learned a lot about designing for low-literacy populations by watching them use it. We also learned how to find and engage workers on Facebook to get them comfortable with our services and our brand, and then moving them over to the app. Many low-literacy workers are comfortable with text messages, Facebook, Messenger or YouTube, but may be intimidated by other apps. For that reason, we are integrating text messaging, and in the future, we will experiment with chat bots and other ways to scale engagement with workers on the channels that they already use.
We believe technology tools in the hands of workers can usher in a new era of supply chain transparency and accountability. We would love to learn from any companies that have used technology to address recruitment and engagement challenges as we work together to clean up recruiting and innovate supply chain accountability.