The following text was written by Wenjuan Yao, China Director at Verité, a global non-profit organization looking to ensure safe, fair and legal work conditions for people all around the world, and originally published in the “CSR Risk and Performance Index 2018.”
Once companies begin to engage their value chain partners on sustainability topics, either through assessments, audits or similar data collection processes, the next challenge is how to help them improve. While many brands have gathered worker feedback to increase engagement, when closely examined, the efforts have tended to be brand-centric with workers’ interests often overlooked or marginalized in favor of supply chain risk management.
The findings reported in a new white paper from Gap Inc. and Verité, Employing Workers’ Sense of Value as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to Drive Facility Improvement in Social Responsibility, demonstrate that taking a worker-centric approach to sustainable supplier performance improvement can be mutually beneficial to both workers and management. The report, which covers Verité’s work with Gap to engage and improve labor practices of suppliers across five countries, underscores the importance of having an independent, local partner, who can help engage suppliers and their workforce.
A Local Program for an International Brand
In 2015, Gap Inc. launched a Workforce Engagement Program to measure the degree to which garment workers feel valued and engaged at work, and the factors that affect these feelings. The program sought to set priorities and goals for facility improvement. Another goal was to develop connections between various CSR programs to effectively respond to the feedback of workers. Gap Inc. partnered with Verité to develop and implement this program.
From 2015 to 2016, Verité assessors gathered information from workers and management through written surveys, focused group discussions (FGD) and individual interviews to derive insights on issues that are of concern to workers. The initial Verité survey assessments were conducted in five countries (China, Bangladesh, India, Guatemala and Vietnam) covering 78 facilities with a total worker population of 187,036.
Based on Verité’s findings, Gap Inc. partnered with its suppliers to make investments in response to worker feedback. The assessment also informed the training programs for facility managers, who can have a direct and profound impact on workers’ sense of value (SOV), engagement, knowledge and overall well-being.
Improvement in Management Practices Leads to Higher Engagement
In 2017, Verité conducted 34 reassessments to measure improvement. The study indicates that improvement in management practices, especially in the areas of Immediate Supervisors, Training and Development, Fair Treatment, and Communication and Feedback had significant impact, with positive changes in these areas driving score improvements in workers’ SOV and engagement.
- Workers’ SOV scores increased by an average of 14.01 percent in 24 out of the 34 facilities reassessed;
- Workers’ sense of engagement scores increased by an average of 11.62 percent in 25 out of the 34 facilities reassessed;
- Workers’ rating of management practices improved by an average of 11.49 percent in 25 out of the 34 facilities reassessed.
In short, this study found that this type of assessment can maximize workers’ participation in setting facility improvement goals that matter most to workers, as well as measure the impact of programs on workers.
A Huge Potential for the Garment Industry
“Verité’s new report shows that when our apparel suppliers make investments in worker engagement – whether through supervisory training, innovative communications channels, or career advancement opportunities – people and business alike can benefit,” said David Hayer, SVP of Global Sustainability at Gap Inc. and President of Gap Foundation. “We know there’s more work to be done, but by putting garment workers at the center of our supplier partnerships, we believe these factories can become preferred places to work in the communities in which they operate, and help drive our business.”
Most important, this project points to the significant potential for sector-wide, sustainable change that is possible if the practices outlined here are adopted widely by brands and suppliers alike. The entire apparel sector will gain much from articulating and measuring impact in terms of concrete, verifiable gains made in workers’ SOV and engagement as the core building blocks of mutually beneficial worker/management cooperation.
By Wenjuan Yao, Verité China Director
For more articles like this and insights on sustainability progress in global supply chains read the whole CSR Risk and Performance Index 2018.
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