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Programs Aimed at Promoting Garment Worker Welfare Kick Into Gear

Labor nonprofit Solidaridad has embarked on a pilot program with retailers Esprit, H&M and KappAhl and software firm QuizRR to improve working conditions in China’s textile and garment industry.

The project, which is being funded by ASN Bank in the Netherlands, aims to ensure decent labor conditions, increase opportunities for skills development and deliver fair wages to at least 1,000 factory workers in China at a minimum of two factories by the end of 2020. From there, the initiative plans to extend IT-based training, systems and methodologies on wage management to a larger swath of factories and workers, which Solidaridad says will contribute to “better livelihoods of the factory workers, and improved transparency, quality and productivity of the factories.”

Solidaridad says it will oversee the implementation of QuizRR’s digital education and worker-engagement tools and provide onsite guidance and support. In addition, it promises to promote “social dialogue” between workers and managers, ensuring all parties have an active role in developing and incorporating solutions in a way that encourages inclusiveness and local ownership.

The program will employ H&M’s wage-management system, one which activist groups such as the International Labor Rights Forum have criticized in the past for neglecting the role of brands in keeping wages down for workers.

“All the management systems in the world can’t give workers the income they need to live on if the price H&M pays the factory is too low to allow for that,” Sarah Newell, a campaigner at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, told Sourcing Journal last July. “H&M notes how important it is for workers to know how their wage is calculated, yet when it listed the factors that influence that, it neglected to include the brand’s contribution—perhaps the most significant factor in what a worker’s wage is.”

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But Solidaridad appears hopeful the new initiative will be able to address two of the leading causes of worker dissatisfaction in China—insufficient wages and overwork—which it says leads to strikes, low productivity and high employee turnover.

“Improvement in wages among workers and skills development are vital areas to work on. This is true not only for factory employees, but also for generating business and the expansion in the global market for the factories and brands alike” Solidaridad said. “Ensuring the workers’ rights, health and safety and social security enables businesses to have a positive impact on local causes, such as better standard of living, skills development and greater productivity of the employees.”

China isn’t the only country with worker well-being on its mind. Just last week, IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative—with buy-in from Bestseller, Gap, Li & Fung, PVH Corp., Target, VF Corp. and Walmart—launched the Life and Building Safety (LABS) initiative in India and Vietnam to help factories meet local and international requirements for fire, electrical and structural safety. Together, the partner brands cover hundreds of factories and roughly 125,000 workers in India and 163,400 in Vietnam.

“Aimed at improving worker safety in the apparel and footwear industries, LABS effectively identifies and mitigates the potential risks related to fire, electrical and structural building safety and evacuation,” Pramit Chanda, a LABS spokesperson, explained in a statement. “LABS is a coherent and consistent worker-safety program to assess factories and provide a framework for monitoring, mitigation and remediation.”

One thing the LABS assessment isn’t, however, is a code-compliance check, which makes it different from legally binding programs such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The program will define a benchmark level of safety based on international best practices, against which apparel and footwear factories will be assessed.

This past week also saw the debut of a pilot program to tackle gender-based violence and harassment in Lethoso after a two-year Workers Rights Consortium investigation uncovered abuse at factories that manufacture products for Levi Strauss, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands, which operates Lee and Wrangler.

“This is a global issue, an industry-wide issue, and we have every intention of continuing to be leaders in efforts to insure a safe and productive working environment across our entire supply chain,” Levi’s responded in a statement.