Sung In Marshall
Associate Director, Worker Engagement, ELEVATE

Published: 17 September 2021

Published: 17 September 2021

Sung In Marshall - Associate Director, Worker Engagement, ELEVATE

Getting the Full Picture: Why Worker Sentiment can Provide Critical Indicators for Responsible Sourcing

Tens of thousands of social compliance audits are conducted throughout global supply chains each year. ELEVATE alone conducts over 18,000 assessments and audits annually with a geographic reach of over 100 countries. And yet, a typical social compliance audit provides only a snapshot of a supplier’s performance. In a standard social compliance audit, a qualified assessor visits a supplier site and prepares a report based on what is observed that day. While the auditor’s observations are supplemented with corroboration from document review and worker/management interviews, it is still not the full picture.

As a result, an integrated approach for social compliance auditing – one that includes both an audit checklist-based process enhanced with direct insights from workers – is important to lay the foundation for a more robust way of identifying risk. Who better to ask about working conditions and worker well-being than workers themselves?

ELEVATE believes in the value of Worker Voice. That’s why we’ve integrated our Worker Sentiment Survey into all ELEVATE Responsible Sourcing Assessment (ERSA) audits. We understand that a standard social compliance audit only provides a partial picture and that listening to workers is a core component of improving working conditions in business operations and supply chains. By giving workers a voice and the confidence that their concerns are being addressed, factory management can improve staff retention, increase employee productivity, and enhance communications between workers and management.

By integrating direct worker feedback through technology-enabled worker voice, companies can collect a higher volume and greater variety of actionable data for responsible sourcing and due diligence purposes, particularly when identifying risks related to working conditions. Better, more direct data also helps employers strengthen management processes and remediation efforts to ensure more positive worker well-being outcomes as well as improved productivity and retention.

Asking workers directly about the issues that concern them most helps companies identify emerging risk issues and address them early on before they escalate into major problems. According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, over 5 billion people globally own a mobile device, with half of these mobile devices being smartphones. According to 2020 data from the GSMA, 3.8 billion people use mobile internet.

This growing access to mobile technology has empowered workers to log grievances and report on their working conditions in the public domain via social media. Social media has provided an outlet for amplified worker voice and a greater likelihood of workers choosing to publicly raise key issues within global supply chains. Social media campaigns also have increased, holding companies accountable for the treatment and management of workers in their supply chains. Left unaddressed, this can result in reputational damage to brand image, and potentially legal, financial, and operational repercussions. The worker sentiment survey can be valuable to factory management as a means of heading off more serious problems.

By integrating worker voice into the social compliance auditing process, companies can identify key issues early on by listening to workers’ perspectives on the issues that affect them most. Further, as worker survey responses are kept anonymous, workers may feel more able to report sensitive issues. According to data collected through ELEVATE’s Worker Sentiment Surveys in 2020, 9.8% of all workers globally have experienced some form of verbal abuse from their supervisors. 3.6% of all workers globally have experienced sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexual remarks or physical contact from a supervisor or co-worker. 4.3% of workers reported unequal treatment based on gender at their workplace.

Worker voice can therefore signal the presence of non-compliances and violations – but taken on its own, it does not provide validated, verified evidence in the same way that audits do. Similarly, worker voice alone cannot identify the full range of social compliance issues, for example, management systems or business ethics. Therefore, an integrated approach provides a fuller picture of the social compliance performance of a supplier – an audit alone may not be able to identify emerging risks or issues – such as discrimination, harassment, and abuse – that are difficult to identify while an auditor is on-site for a single day. But when both tools are combined, they present a more comprehensive picture – rather than a snapshot – of real working conditions in the supply chain and provide the actionable data to create a lasting, positive impact.


These blogs are written by ELEVATE staff members or associates and the views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of ELEVATE.

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