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M&S Uses New Technology To Monitor Factories

In the aftermath of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza tragedy, retailers have been struggling to figure out how to monitor the factories they contract with, remote as they often are. Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced a plan to use new technology to keep tabs on its factories, designed for mobile phones.

The new technology is designed to collect information directly from the factories regarding labor conditions, safety, job training and general worker satisfaction. Surveys are distributed to factory workers in various languages–Hindi, Sinhalese, etc.– and returned anonymously. M&S has already tested the program with thirteen of its suppliers in India and Sri Lanka, interviewing more than 2,000 workers.

Fiona Sadler, M&S head of ethical sourcing, 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.”

M&S plans a massive rollout of the program in the future, with the intent to reach thirty more factories and 22,500 more workers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It remains unclear how they intend to ensure workers have access to mobile phones and iPads, or how they can guarantee they are permitted by supervisors to answer the questionnaires candidly.

Sadler said, “”We don’t directly employ workers in the factories, but they make Marks & Spencer products, take part in Marks & Spencer training programs and have a stake in our brand. It’s important to know whether we’re getting things right. The real time data Labor Link can deliver for us will be invaluable in shaping our policies and programs.”