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23 September 2013 | Will Green
Marks & Spencer (M&S) plans to survey thousands of workers in its supply chain using mobile phone technology.
The company has signed a one-year deal with social enterprise technology provider Good World Solutions to obtain anonymous survey data on 22,500 garment workers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Under the system workers listen to questions on their phone – covering issues such as working conditions, job satisfaction and training – and answer by pressing their keypad.
Fiona Sadler, head of ethical sourcing at M&S, said: “This is an innovative breakthrough for us and moves workplace communication into the digital era. It’s not about checking up on our suppliers, it’s about making sure we’re doing the right things for the workers in our supply chain and giving them a voice.
“We don’t directly employ workers in the factories, but they make Marks & Spencer products, take part in Marks & Spencer training programmes and have a stake in our brand. It’s important to know whether we’re getting things right.”
The technology has been tested with 13 suppliers, involving 2,000 workers, in Sri Lanka and India.
In India, where the survey covered financial literacy, 59 per cent of people had a bank account, 56 per cent did not have any savings, and of those with savings 43 per cent kept them at home.
The system will be now rolled out across 30 factories, with four surveys taking place each year.
Heather Franzese, director of Good World Solutions, said: “As the first UK company to give workers a voice through mobile technology, M&S is really taking a leadership position. There are 4.5 billion mobile subscriptions in the developing world. This is a truly disruptive innovation in ethical trade – enabling workers and buyers to connect directly.”
The work is part of M&S’s Plan A programme, under which the firm plans to be the “most sustainable major retailer” by 2015.