Giving Workers a Voice for Better Working Conditions

Towards the end of 2012, the adidas Group launched an “SMS for Workers Hotline” pilot project in one supplier in Indonesia. The initiative, which takes advantage of the fact that the vast majority of factory workers in Indonesia have mobile phones, allows factory workers to send a simple SMS to the factory management if they are concerned that their rights are being compromised or simply to ask for clarification.

Following the tremendous results from the pilot project, in 2013 we decided to roll out the service to four additional suppliers in Indonesia and one in Vietnam. Since the beginning of the project almost 35,000 factory workers have been given access to the hotline services.

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The benefits of the system

The service clearly proves that direct communication between factory workers and their management helps both parties improve factory working conditions. How? In multiple ways: it raises awareness about issues that only workers can see, and it also increases accountability as response from the management to the concerns is vital.

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At the beginning, when the project was just launched, I could feel the enthusiasm around the initiative: workers wanted to test if the service was really working; they asked questions about how to calculate overtime pay. They also expressed their concerns over the cleanliness of shared facilities, like toilets, and when their supervisors asked them to work during rest hours.

The service has allowed factory management to be exposed to potential issues early enough to take action. I’ll give you an example. In one factory, some concerns were expressed about working hours. To have more clarity on the issue, the factory management inspected the reported department without any prior notice to the head of the department and found out that a group of workers in a sewing line was working even during their lunch break. The factory management took immediate action: all supervisory-level employees in the production areas were briefed and the company’s Working Hours Policy was emphasized during the briefing. Afterwards, the management reviewed again the monitoring system to prevent similar cases from happening again and disciplinary action was taken against the responsible supervisor.

As the management reacted immediately to address the concern, workers started to trust the system and continued to bring up their concerns through the SMS hotline service.

In this specific case, I myself learned that the hotline service can be a useful barometer for measuring the implementation of company policies and procedures. It helps the management identify trends in information requests and also helps support decisions on areas for improvement.

A system to be trusted

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The SMS Hotline System is definitely filling in the gap that sometimes exists between factory management and workers when it comes to communication. Suppliers informed us that nowworkers prefer bringing their concerns to them through the hotline service rather than through suggestion boxes installed in the factories. It was again through the SMS Hotline System that workers informed the management about a potential strike in one factory. The information was accurate and timely. With that information, the factory was able to speak to workers, meet with the workers’ representatives and the factory unions, clarify the issue and prevent the strike. I believe the hotline service promotes honesty and transparency throughout all levels in the organization.

Feedback is key to improving the system

Although generally I can say that the first roll-out was successful, there will always be areas for improvement. Based on a survey that we conducted, we found out that promotion of the service is vital to its success. Some workers told us that they were not really sure about the anonymity of the service. They feared information could be leaked. Learning from the feedback that we were able to gather, we encouraged the factory to find better ways to promote the service and explain why it can be a powerful communication tool.

Gradual but constant roll-out

An additional nine suppliers in Indonesia and ten in Vietnam are keen to implement the service in their factories. Currently, we are also looking at the possibility of rolling out this service in other countries.

I believe that 2014 will be another successful year for this initiative. A gradual, but consistent, roll-out will be the key to that success. In the next few years, we plan to extend this service to all other adidas Group suppliers.

Click here to learn more about the SMS Hotline System!

Stay tuned! We will soon publish our 2013 Sustainability Report, in which we will share the progress of our Sustainability efforts.

adidas Group11 April 2014