CAN WE TALK: Upgrading the supply chain for the common good and greater change was the takeaway at a July 21 panel discussion moderated by Julie Gilhart at Glasgow Caledonian University’s SoHo outpost. Loomstate and Rogan founding partner Scott Mackinlay Hahn spoke of his environmentally-minded uniforms for Chipotle and Kevin Cassidy of the United Nations’ International Labour Organization touted the upsides of transparency.

Another panelist, Cara Chacon, who is Patagonia’s director of social and environmental responsibility, talked about how one of the problems plaguing brands that produce goods overseas is finding out what goes on in the factories, as well as ensuring workers are properly documented. She made the point that when employees are interviewed about their working conditions on-site, workers are usually very nervous to speak openly about working extra hours, child labor, safety conditions.

Through new technology available through the nonprofit group Labor Link, workers are offered cards and asked to call a number to answer a telephone survey about their working environment. As an added incentive, the factory workers are told that they will get monetary credit on their cellphones to complete a 10-question survey, Chacon said. “It’s very expensive to have a cellphone overseas so they will get like two U.S. Dollars worth of credit which is like a month’s worth of talk time,” she said. “But you really get a lot of real data and truthful data that helps you understand the happiness level in the factory or validates something you might be trying to fix in the factory that the management might be trying to hide from you.”

In addition to empowering the workers to have a voice with the brands whose products they are making, it helps to verify corrective actions have been done in the factory or to better understand workers’ needs.

After polling workers in India, it was determined they needed raincoats for the monsoon season so that they would not get drenched en route to work and would have to spend the day discomforted by their heavy, wet saris. “It was eye opening to learn that all they needed was raincoats or a roof over their motorcycle bikes so that they don’t get wet,” Chacon said.

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