The moderator, Ms Leslie Johnston, Executive Director at the C&A Foundation, introduced the panellists and mentioned that they are technologists who can explain how technology can promote human rights.
Ms Jessi Baker, Founder of Provenance, commented that Provenance’s vision is to use blockchain technology to improve access to information about businesses and human rights. Baker explained that blockchain is a new type of database that facilitates the exchange of information at a global level. Baker gave the example of encrypted currency, and explained that blockchain is a decentralised network with pieces of data coming from different sources, and that it is beyond government control. He argued that this allows data to flow down the market through the supply chain. According to him, there is a need to digitalise data to empower individuals along the supply chain, rather than have top down solutions. Baker gave an example of the fishing industry’s project in South East Asia, in which blockchain connected fishermen and end users, and is helping to reduce abuse of prices along the supply chain.
Ms Beth Holzman, Director for Worker Engagement at Laborlink, observed that technology can unlock the voice of workers. Laborlink technology enables worker engagement and the attainment of unfiltered feedback which provides a better understanding of labour issues. Moreover, quality data improves working conditions. Holzman said that Laborlink China collected 32 000 survey responses from across 20 Chinese factories, and in Bangladesh it collected over 32 000 survey responses from workers in 40 factories. This has given a platform to 47% of workers to report grievances and 38% of them have been effectively assisted.
Holzman said that to achieve meaningful results, there is a need to take necessary action:
- Share worker survey results with middle management to improve awareness of worker and management relationships
- Initiate more trainings for workers on grievances
Furthermore, Holzman pointed out that their goal was to put workers at the centre, that worker engagement must be at the core of all factory engagements, and to enhance responsible sourcing of programmes by companies.
In connection to remedy, she claimed that worker perspectives are key to risk assessment, mitigation, and prevention, and that companies need to focus on remedy criteria. Holzman concluded by saying that in future, there must be consent on access to individual information and defined pathways for remedy.
Dr Venkat Maroju, Chief Executive Officer at Source Trace, commented that smallholder farmers are the backbone of agriculture productivity and that farmers should be engaged to improve productivity. Using the digital power of mobile technology brings change through digital transactions. However, most of the farmers are in rural areas with poor connectivity and mostly offline.
Maroju stressed that quality infrastructure, digital payment, training in certification, and training in modern and digital financing through co-operatives is helping to improve farmers’ activity. Companies need to work on social accountability, and Source Trace is helping companies and cooperatives to translate their policies and make them work in areas of social enterprise and social audit by use of technology.
The amount of money in the value chain is at grass root level, making it difficult to attract information and communication technology (ICT). Illiteracy of farmers and lack of support in rural areas are key challenges in digitalising rural farmers.
Mr Kenton Harmer, Certification Director at Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), explained that the EFI is a skills-building and standards-setting organisation. EFI innovation provides relationship building, leadership, and team training, and enhances companies’ compliance with standards, audit, and certification. The initiative uses digital technologies in these activities, as they help to identify and come up with remedies to work-related problems.