&Wider – The Company Driving Sustainable Supply Chain Transparency

At A Glance – Making the Invisible Visible

Cultivating and monitoring sustainable supply chains is no small feat for an organisation committed to tackling injustice and transforming their operations. Across industries, unregulated labour forces, often embroiled deep within fourth or fifth tier networks of global supply chains, remain unaccounted for. Their voices and human rights are neglected in the pursuit of short-term profit by shareholders throughout the world.

 &Wider is revolutionising the sustainability of supply chains to remedy these specific challenges.  This innovative organisation has harnessed the power of technology to address humanitarian issues as well as to maximise operational efficiencies across supply chains. Through their online platform, they have designed a virtuous cycle and continuous feedback loop that connects workers in factories to management within organisations to scale positive impact for all stakeholders. The competitive advance of resilient, profitable and efficient supply chains is one business case for using &Wider, however it is the alleviating of social inequalities across these exact chains that make its work imperative. Such an issue has been made increasingly relevant by the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which renders visits from social auditors less frequent and where uncontracted workers are vulnerable to illegal working conditions, questionable wages, health and safety breaches as well as the volatility of global demand. This is especially applicable in the garment sector. (For more on this ongoing situation, click here)

&Wider’s efforts directly contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals most linked to modern slavery and workers’ rights which are:

Goal 8 –  decent work and economic growth

Goal 10 – to reduce inequality

Goal 12 – to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

This feature explores the mission, technology and processes that makes &Wider tick. In a time of a global health crisis, their partnerships illuminate the increased demand for a platform dedicated to driving genuine reform for all supply chain stakeholders. In an exclusive conversation with Lea Esterhuizen, Founder and CEO – it delves into the tangible positive impact and future prospects for this ethical enabler!

In Focus – Improving Conditions Along the Supply Chain

Mission

Since 2014, &Wider have strived to drive trust and efficiency throughout supply chains. With three simple actions, ‘listen, respond and improve’, the team endeavour to make the invisible visible. They facilitate the engagement of organisations with workers to create a measurable strategy that builds trust amongst all parties for long term benefits.

The &Wider platform offers candid reporting from workers, where suppliers (the employer) and the buyers are able to effectively collect data and respond to risks or issues that occur in daily operations. Their devised metrics are revolutionising the way regular anonymous social monitoring can be conducted, something that is so desperately needed as auditors are often constrained by time and resources which affects their ability to visit work places frequently. Consider a Nespresso coffee plantation in Guatemala that receives social auditing from the corporation one day a year, what happens for the remaining 364?

Who They Work With

The objectives of &Wider are not confined to a single industry, they work with players across several sectors including FMCG, agri-food, construction, textile/apparel, energy and international infrastructural developments projects.

They collaborate with brands and retailers committed to sustainability, who are willing to move beyond risk mitigation to conduct social monitoring which benefits buyers and suppliers, and for those looking to scale up their long-term social impact. Innovative suppliers and progressive organisations as well as vendors, manufacturers and importers, seeking to drive positive changes for workers and supply chain opportunities, are increasingly calling upon &Wider services.  Their clients are progressive, willing to act when workers flag gaps or challenges and subsequently stepping up to rectify issues.

How It Works

Down to the technical. &Wider uses technology which creates insights for businesses that subsequently use the data to drive organisational improvements. Their range of tools collect this insight via the mobile phones of workers. Their aim is to complete the knowledge gap between companies that are removed from their front-line suppliers and to open a dialogue to raise the benchmark in social standards, operations and efficiency.

Credit: &Wider

&Wider offer three main tools to do this:

  1. Engage – A mobile survey-based tool which flags up issues before they escalate and highlights areas of strong performance. This phone survey includes a 5-minute call in the workers’ language and 20 questions to gain a clearer picture of their working conditions. All feedback is 100% anonymous and workers simply respond with either option 1, 2, 3 which cannot be traced. For the companies reviewing the results, everything is uploaded to a dashboard where a traffic light rating system is used to identify  which sites require support and where priorities lie.
  2. Enhance – This service uses the same technology and dashboards as Engage, but focus is placed on enabling workers to identify productivity improvements.
  3. Enable – By focusing on incident reporting, the Enable tool creates a continuous two-way exchange between employers and their workers. Regular calls are conducted with workers who are able to anonymously report on issues. All reports are logged and shared with management, who then respond and this feedback is subsequently passed back to the team in the workplace. The continuous feedback loop is invaluable and ensures all workers’ concerns are addressed in an effective response and the organisation gains salient insight into current challenges. This tool is new. 
Credit: &Wider

Recent Partnerships

The global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the orthodox functioning of supply chains. &Wider have demonstrated their agility and the influence of their mission through their recent partnerships to ensure protection of vulnerable workers during this turbulent time.

Sedex

Sedex are a leading ethical trade service provider that strive to improve working conditions and galvanise companies to recognise their responsibility in sourcing responsibly through sustainable supply chain practices.

Through their partnership with &Wider’s collaboration, they have formed a direct worker reporting programme for businesses to listen directly to their workers and respond accordingly throughout the COVID-19 disruption. The mobile voice technology and survey tools are collecting invaluable information on how to make workplace conditions safer during the health crisis. What’s more, all feedback can be stored for future reference. This direct communication channel limits the fallout from restrictions on organisations ability to visit worksites directly. In my opinion – the efficient and accurate data gained will be a powerful instrument to increase the reliability and scope of information published in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability reports.

On their efforts, Sedex Chief Executive Simon McCalla noted “The disruption caused by COVID-19 and the impact this is having on front-line workers who are now under new pressures, demonstrates the crucial need for businesses to ensure their workers’ health, safety and wellbeing is a business priority. Offering direct worker reporting is a key component of our strategy to provide organisations with the most trusted information products and services to drive responsible business practices in supply chains and impact the lives of people”.

Partner Africa

&Wider has engaged a group of brands and retailers for a special project run by Partner Africa that investigates the impact of COVID-19 across a range of workplaces in multiple regions of the Continent.

Quick off the mark, the project has already conducted several call cycles and has provided vital information on the impacts of COVID-19 on workers and businesses along African supply chains. Zoë Wakefield, Head of Advisory and Responsible Business at Partner Africa reinforced the value proposition of this to “elevate the worker voice at a time when working conditions are increasingly strained and generate recommendations for action that will hopefully mitigate some of the more severe ramifications of the pandemic on livelihoods in the region.”

The quantitative and qualitative data gathered provides a clearer picture of the ongoing situation. It shows how the virus has affected supply, distribution and retention as well as worker wellbeing and livelihoods.

&Wider and Partner Africa intend to make these reports public which will better inform and remedy business strategies in similar times of crisis.

It’s fantastic to see industry collaboration of this scale in the pursuit of turning such a challenge into an opportunity throughout African supply chains.

In Conversation with Lea Esterhuizen, Founder & CEO

Credit: &Wider

The purpose that drives Lea and her team is unparalleled. With a background in data science and research, Lea is experienced in grappling with insights of a sensitive nature such as violence and forced migration, and citizens exposed to conflicts, including Bosnia, and societies in the MENA Region during the Arab Spring. 

We discussed inspiring cases that have come to fruition since &Wider’s inception in 2014. Lea sited their work with clients of a smaller size, whether that be monitoring working conditions on a Scottish farm or collaborating with farming co-operatives in East Africa.

She noted these experiences have been humbling given the enthusiasm from clients about receiving anonymous feedback which enables them to investigate what truly goes on and take action to address priorities voiced by workers. Feedback can vary from disrespectful communication to the breaching of laws regarding under age workers or operational issues such as the lack of drinking water on site. Improvements of both small and large magnitudes are achieved through the &Wider platform. Lea drew attention to the fact that progression isn’t a linear upward curve, instead there are peaks are troughs. &Wider have to educate their suppliers and buyers not to feel disheartened when there is volatility in their feedback as this can relate to seasonal pressures within the workplace and external factors including political upheaval, recessionary pressures, and shorter delivery time for or changes in purchase orders.

The impact of COVID-19 has strengthened &Wider’s partnerships. Lea explained the situation has attracted a different profile of clients to seek assistance which means they have been able to demonstrate the power of transparency and a positive feedback loop to a larger population of brands. Interestingly, with the aforementioned Partner Africa collaboration, Lea said it has been overwhelmingly encouraging to see a group of companies that would never usually work together join forces to mitigate the fall out for their suppliers and workers during the pandemic.

A particular element of our conversation I found invaluable was on the challenges &Wider has faced.  Lea explained the education and language surrounding responsible sourcing has been challenging as this has traditionally placed emphasis on what the buyer needs, not on what insight is useful to the supplier. With a previous focus on the tools and technology used in the context of policing, suppliers have mistakenly assumed, the service may not be for them as they are apprehensive about it being used as a policing measure. Lea and her team have since worked to shift the paradigm and narrative, such that suppliers and buyers understand the system as a monitoring system which benefits all, and enables all parties to listen anonymously and regularly to workers!

“The assumption from the buyers is that working conditions are always caused by the supplier alone. This is not the case. ”

What has previously not been factored in are the myriad of alternative influences on working conditions. This can include political turmoil, recession, purchasing practices, migratory pressures and organised crime syndicates involved in forced migration and human trafficking. She noted that we must account for the integration of all of these factors when calling for greater transparency in the pursuit of better working conditions.                                   

As a female founder of an organisation that drives positive impact, I enquired what advice Lea would offer to those starting on a similar trajectory. Her counsel was to let the burning issue speak for itself. For instance, the urgency surrounding the protection of workers in supply chains is what fuels &Wider’s work and changing lives need not be distracted by anything else.

Final Thoughts – Feedback Loop As A Force For Good

&Wider demonstrate the enhanced value of technology in a period of such volatility for vulnerable workers and global supply chains. Its tools promote listening to workers, early intervention to address working conditions or worker wellbeing challenges and avoid escalation, enhanced transparency and better risk management for suppliers, buyers and others interested in better insight to drive sustainable supply chains.

The continuous feedback loop &Wider services promote provide a powerful incentive for businesses to engage in tackling inadequacies in workers’ rights as well as scaling operational efficiencies for long term tangible value.

No longer should the voices of those who stitch our clothes, pack our boxes or harvest our food be left unheard or unaccounted for. 2020 is the year that every supply chain stakeholder deserves a seat at the table, &Wider provide the perfect solution.

As a final tip, I would encourage you to research into a business’s supply chain operations by reviewing their annual or CSR report. Here, you should find disclosure on supply chains – this may be limited or bent to form a certain narrative so be sure to critically analyse! Look out for the SA800 which is The Social Accountability International – a globally recognised standard to assess ethical profile of supply chains. This is one of many.

If you found this article interesting, take a look at the Apparel section including features on labour behind the label and the secrets of global value chains.

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