Connectivity is Productivity: How Mobile Technology Can Support Decent Work

"Connectivity is productivity." Ten years later, Iqbal Quadir's proclamation about the power of digital connection to accelerate human potential could not be more relevant.

The Mobile World Congress is happening March 2-5 in Barcelona. The event will have 85,000 attendees in eight giant convention halls, all talking about how mobile technology can improve our quality of life -- from mHealth to smart cities, to mobile in the classroom.

What about for the factory workers who assemble these mobile devices? Imagine you're a factory worker being sexually harassed by your supervisor, not being paid on time, handling toxic chemicals without protection or being forced to work underage. In the past, you would suffer in silence. You were invisible.

Today, mobile phones are making these workers visible and giving them a voice. Millions of factory workers in countries like China, India and Bangladesh now have phones. Some even have smartphones as sophisticated as the ones they are assembling. That phone is a lifeline. Workers can use it to report harassment and abuse to decision-makers -- anonymously and in real time.

Over the last four years, our Labor Link technology has polled 200,000 workers in 15 countries about every aspect of their workplace conditions -- from wages and benefits, to job satisfaction and safety. We then deliver that data to employers, buyers and NGOs with clear recommendations on how conditions can be improved.

We've found that mobile offers advantages that other communication channels do not. In particular, mobile is:

  • Timely: Traditional social audits in factories happen once a year. If you're not being paid on time, you can't afford to wait 6 months or more for an auditor to come. You need to be able to report the problem now.

  • Anonymous: Face-to-face interviews don't offer workers protection to be able to report sensitive issues like sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. Mobile makes it possible to report anonymously.
  • Scalable: Our vision is that every worker should have a free and anonymous channel to voice concerns about their workplace to decision-makers. This kind of scale cannot be achieved without technology.
  • With this direct worker feedback, we have a much better sense of true factory conditions and a baseline to track progress on worker well-being over time. Specifically, we're using technology to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially these two:

    • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Acclaimed social entrepreneur Jacqueline Novogratz said in her organization Acumen's manifesto for change that "It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard." This is what we're doing with mobile technology. We're listening to the voices of previously invisible factory workers, to address their grievances and help them reach their potential.

    Without worker voice, we can't hope to achieve decent work or sustainable production. But by leveraging mobile to give workers a seat at the table, we're turning connectivity into productivity.

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    Good World Solutions is a partner of Cisco CSR. Cisco sponsors The Huffington Post's ImpactX section.