Thailand tests worker voice tech

ASEAN+ March 19, 2019 01:00

By AGENCIES, THE NATION

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AN INNOVATIVE voice app called Apprise Audit is being tested in factories in Thailand this month, in a move to protect workers against exploitation.



Apprise Audit’s goal is to enhance worker interviews during social audits – by increasing frequency, inclusivity, confidentiality and consistency of worker screening. The app allows questions in multiple languages to be asked through audio recordings, answered through a smartphone and saved on a server. The app’s testing is being backed by global corporations VF Corporation and Li & Fung. 

Apprise Audit aims to overcome obstacles to worker screening uncovered by the United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS) and anti-slavery NGO the Mekong Club, who surveyed over 170 anti-trafficking workers and over 200 social auditors.

For example, 71 per cent of the auditors surveyed stated that they select workers for screening based on language capability, and an overwhelming majority (95 per cent) stated that they speak one or two languages at most, meaning they often cannot reach out to migrants who speak another language. 

The same study uncovered that workers are often interviewed in groups or near their managers and supervisors, so they will not talk to strangers and share their stories for fear of being punished.

During field research, a female worker said she had worked in a seafood processing factory for six years doing over four hours of overtime a day, but never got compensated for it. 

She was told to lie to labour inspectors by her employer, who would always be there to listen to what she said. 

She said she wished the labour inspector could have used a mobile app such as Apprise Audit when visiting factories, so that no one could hear her answers, or track the answers back to her, since the data collected by the app is anonymous. “No one wants to get in trouble by telling the truth but they all need help,” she said.

Silvia Mera, programme director at the Mekong Club, said: “Apprise Audit offers a time- and cost-effective way to interview workers. 

“We are eager to test the app in the field and gather both social auditors’ and workers’ feedback to further advance this solution.”

Dr Hannah Thinyane, principal research fellow at UNU-CS, said: “Apprise Audit is a simple, yet effective way to empower workers to communicate with auditors. We do not aim at replacing in-person interviews, [but] rather offer one more tool to make these interviews more thorough.”

The app is also currently being tested in Vietnam and China by four major companies, including VF Corporation and Li & Fung.

“We are excited to see how this technology might help our field teams to gain insights into a sub-group of people who have historically been overlooked or underrepresented due to language barriers,” Kyle Bogler, general compliance manager for Asia at VF Corporation, said. 

“Gaining these understandings and building effective remediation plans gives VF Corporation further opportunities to have a positive impact on the people and communities around the world.”

Results from the pilot project will be shared once the test phase of the project concludes at the end of March.

 

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