Real-Time Data: How Mobile Surveys Give Voice to Factory Workers and Drive Better Working Conditions

Real-Time Data: How Mobile Surveys Give Voice to Factory Workers and Drive Better Working Conditions

In the U.S., it’s not easy to know what working conditions are really like every day for workers sewing our clothes or assembling our electronics in factories across Asia. But with over two billion active mobile phones users in countries like India and China, nonprofits can poll workers directly to get real-time data on whether they feel safe at work and are treated with respect. But getting quality data starts with asking the right questions.

One innovative nonprofit, Good World Solutions, is leveraging technology to collect data and information that can be used to improve the lives of factory workers. Since 2010, the organization’s Labor Link platform has polled over 200,000 workers in 16 countries on every aspect of working conditions.

The platform gives workers a free and anonymous channel—through their own mobile phones—to report on working conditions, opinions and needs in real time. The voice-based system does not require literacy and runs in any language. Workers answer short, multiple-choice surveys with their touch-tone keypad and receive educational messages about their rights and local services. Surveys cover every aspect of working conditions—from child labor to fair wages, as well as access to financial services, health and nutrition, livelihoods and community needs.

By leveraging the disruptive power of mobile, Labor Link gives voice to the global workforce and delivers real time data to multinational corporations, so they can align sourcing practices with worker needs. It delivers actionable recommendations to decision-makers, and companies have used the data to address sexual harassment, enhance training and improve worker housing.

However, the organization needed help designing survey questions in a way that would allow companies to compare worker opinion data across factories and countries and study them over time to see whether conditions are really improving. It also needed to understand how to analyze and visualize data in a compelling way to highlight what actions need to be taken to improve worker well-being.

To address these challenges, the organization turned to Nielsen’s measurement scientists to provide assistance through skills-based volunteering to build an enhanced set of best practices for designing Labor Link survey questions and improve how the organization externally presents its survey methodology to partners, clients and others.

Nielsen research managers also worked with the Labor Link Data Insights team to discuss additional survey design challenges and review a set of standardized surveys to be implemented across countries and industries. This involved reviewing question purpose and recommending improved question and answer choice wording for cleaner design, maximum respondent comprehension and comparability across survey engagements. They also provided guidance on field testing survey questions and making country-level adjustments when necessary.

Nielsen recommendations have already been deployed by Labor Link on the topic of financial inclusion. Globally, 2.5 billion people are without access to basic financial services. Using Nielsen’s improved survey practices, Labor Link is working to both extend banking to the poor and, once banked, give microfinance clients a voice. For example, working on one global initiative, Labor Link surveys assessed the financial literacy of 9,000+ workers at 10 factories in India. Labor Link also delivered financial education to workers via their mobile phones—more than 10,000 voice messages were sent to workers to reinforce training curriculum. The project resulted in a 14% increase in women who say they manage their own salary and a 22% increase in men who say they manage finances collaboratively.

In addition, two large projects are now starting in Bangladesh and China, where Labor Link will be used to deploy standardized survey instruments vetted by Nielsen to an estimated 300,000 factory workers making clothing, mobile handsets and toys for export to the U.S. Worker survey data will be collected at multiple points over the next two years and analyzed to understand trends in workplace safety, job satisfaction and worker-management communication. In essence, Labor Link is applying measurement science for the first time to the question of how factory workplace conditions are changing and what can be done to accelerate positive change for the workers whose products we depend on every day.

Pro bono support for Good World Solutions was provided through Nielsen’s global corporate social responsibility program, Nielsen Cares.