Tech-based solutions have the potential to work as accessible resources in support of human rights and human empowerment. Smartphones and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) give factory workers an easy way to learn about their rights from a neutral party and report abuses in a protected way.
— By Robin Byrd
Empowering factory workers with solutions to keep the organizations they work for accountable has proved difficult in the past. Workers often feel unsafe reporting abuses and many are unaware of the rights they do have. But what if empowering individuals is easier and more accessible than has been previously thought?
Thanks to new technology-based solutions, each person supplied with a smartphone could have the answer to this problem right in their hands or pockets. Smartphones have been shown to be a useful tool not just for factory workers, but for many other groups of people who are vulnerable to human rights abuses, especially domestic abuse victims and refugees. As a result, companies looking to support human rights can adapt these technologies to empower their workers.
Connecting People and Resources
Smartphones have shown to be a key tool in human empowerment, and even survival, in modern times. However, the technology used in support of human rights is not just limited to factory workers. In fact, technology-based solutions to human rights violations were first used by other groups of people before their implementation in corporate settings.
Victims of domestic abuse, refugees and civilian witnesses are just some of the people who have benefitted from smartphone reporting technology. Mobile apps such as VictimsVoice, for example, allow users to securely report incidences of abuse, take photos of injuries and evidence, upload exam details from a physician, and more. App developers have partnered with district attorney offices, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and law firms across the country. Gift cards can even be purchased for loved ones.
In Europe, many refugees are using apps and smartphone technology to ensure a safer journey and to communicate important information to their connections back home. The use of mobile apps for translation, currency exchange, money transfers, and navigation has helped refugees lower the costs of migration and reduce the dangers of human trafficking during their journeys. Smartphones also allow refugees the potential of family reunification by preventing them from losing track of relatives. At the very least, a refugee with a smartphone can regularly communicate with family and friends to reassure them of a safe journey while they are traveling and send updates once a destination has been reached.
Tech-Based Ways to Empower Workers
Technology-based solutions for human rights issues can be used by any worker with the right equipment, namely a smartphone and a VPN. In corporate settings, it is also possible to create conditions for workers to safely and securely communicate their needs without fear of reprisal or reprimand.
Dozens of companies have joined with the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), looking for tech-based ways to empower their workers.
With a VPN, workers can connect to the internet through a secure connection. VPNs allow a user’s data to be sent through an encrypted tunnel, providing several benefits such as more anonymity on the internet. A VPN allows workers to safely browse the web and learn about their rights in a neutral way with different IP addresses. The encryption also offers the user more protection from cyber-attacks and can help workers wanting to create and submit reports.
Organizations like the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) show how influential investigations into worker’s rights can be. In a May 2020 investigation, the WRC helped seven employees get rightful compensation after experiencing wage theft due to failure to provide them legally required notice and severance benefits. Each worker was compensated an average of nine month’s salary.
Dozens of companies have joined with the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), looking for tech-based ways to empower their workers. Companies such as AT&T, Dell, Deloitte, Fujitsu, Huawei, IBM, T-Mobile, and more are members of GeSI. These partnerships address issues within the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and the greater sustainability community.
What Companies are Doing About it
Companies like Dell and Arm have not only partnered with the GeSI, but they have also created other initiatives such as Arm’s 2030Vision and Dell’s 2020 Legacy of Good Plan and Realizing 2030 research that works together with GeSI’s efforts.
At AT&T, employee groups like their employee resource groups (ERGs) and employee networks (ENs) are ways workers advance their diversity and inclusion. AT&T has 54 employee groups with more than 147,000 of their employees participating. One of their employee groups, Parents@Work, brings together people with similar challenges working and parenting at AT&T with encouragement and guidance.
AT&T also has other campaigns such as #iCount, where workers can voluntarily and confidentially self-identify online in any or all four categories: race, veteran status, disabilities, and LGBQT. #iCount is a safe and secure way for AT&T employees to be heard, which can be difficult when stigmas are attached to persons with disabilities and mental illnesses.
Companies like Dell have taken similar measures to empower their workers in their diversity and inclusivity efforts. Dell’s diversity program includes investing in STEM education opportunities for all by providing underserved college students with exposure to emerging technologies, ERGs, and addressing industry bias.
They also have digital tools that provide multiple ways for employees to report misconduct. Last year, Dell began testing a new method that allows workers to make reports by scanning a QR code with their smartphones. After scanning, the employee can anonymously submit a report and later follow up on it. Dell has a dedicated global privacy program to protect their users, including encryption in everything that involves the collection, sharing, and processing of personal data.