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Protecting Garment Workers with a Text Message

Values, CompanyNita Rao, Gap Inc. bloggerComment

A simple helpline is making the garment industry safer.

Amader Kotha — an anonymous 24/7 Bangladeshi helpline designed to run on basic mobile phone technology piloted by theAlliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and operated by labor advocacy groups Clear VoicePhulki and Good World Solutions(GWS) — fielded 76 phone calls and text messages from garment workers at four factories this past July. Workers dialed in with questions on missed holiday bonuses and retirement benefits, and to voice safety concerns about fire dangers and a broken electric board in a sample storage room.

Flash forward to December: Amader Kotha helpline operators ended the month (and the 50-site pilot program) with an additional 230 factory requests for training sessions and a total of 2,387 anonymous texts and calls placed by workers across 280 Alliance factories — 31 times more calls and texts than in July.

Safety hazards — rattling windows, shaky walls, cracked beams, fire dangers — topped “urgent” lists, as did job-related issues of benefits, compensation, termination and verbal abuse. As grievances go, this was nothing revelatory.

Yet, according to an Energypac Fashions Ltd. representative, Amader Kotha-trained factory managers shouted less and encouraged workers to point out and nip minor risk areas in the bud by problem-solving with management. Urgent issues were also noted and addressed much earlier when using this new channel.

Garment workers also changed through the program, a Denimach Limited factory representative said. “Earlier, supervisors or charge-level staff would keep garments anywhere on the production floors, even if they were blocking aisles or exits,” he noted. “Now, due to the helpline, their mentality has totally changed. … They are coming to factory management for proper storage of excess goods.”

Now, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety — of which Gap Inc. is a founding member, along with a number of North American apparel companies — is looking forward to 2015. The helpline project team is connecting workers with safety resources, and reviewing how the helpline protocol can protect even more lives going forward. It seems one call or text can truly impact the safety of garment workers worldwide.