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Fung Group’s Latest Agreement Promises to Improve Factories by Giving Workers a Voice

In the midst of a pandemic that has exposed the holes in fashion’s dealings with its upstream partners, Fung Group wants to improve factory performance by better facilitating communication with workers.

As part of an effort it believes will “strengthen the recovery of retail supply chains from COVID-19,” Fung Group announced Tuesday a handoff of its WorkerApp to business risk and sustainability solutions provider Elevate, which will be tasked with further developing and scaling the smartphone-based tool.

Currently, the tool, launched in 2018 and designed for greater supply chain connectivity, allows for digitized garment worker communication and training. More than 50 factories across Vietnam, Indonesia and India already use WorkerApp, according to Fung Group, which is now helping them maintain safety and hygiene in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, too. With it, factory managers can screen staff by pushing something like a COVID-19 Health Declaration Survey to all workers. Based on the responses, they’re able to make an assessment as to whether a worker is low risk and can return to their post, which could ensure greater worker safety and, ultimately, business continuity.

“Now more than ever, companies need direct engagement with workers, 365 days a year,” Elevate vice president of capacity building Heather Canon, said. “With better insights from WorkerApp, factory management can increase employee engagement and morale, and enhance communication between workers and supervisors—all helping boost employee retention and productivity.”

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As part of the agreement with Fung Group, Elevate will acquire WorkerApp and facilitate its expansion into new countries and languages. It will be integrated into the company’s capacity building and advisory services, and brands and retailers will be able to tap the tool to increase visibility across their supply chains used. The aim is for them to leverage it as “an effective external and global grievance channel.”

“Mobile-led, bite-sized learning will be a key part of people’s development and organizational adaptation in a digital economy. We are pleased to work with ELEVATE to connect the supply chain across suppliers, while giving factory workers access to information, tools, and a better quality of life,” Pamela Mar, Fung Academy executive vice president of knowledge and applications, said.

Fung Group said little of how WorkerApp could improve conditions that garment workers are most concerned about in the current times, like whether they will get paid or not, though it said the tool could dole out digitized financial literacy advice. What it may do as it seeks to give workers a platform to speak up, is allow brands and retailers that aren’t on the ground to get a better sense of what’s going on with those who make their clothing, which should increase transparency and, ideally, social responsibility.