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Evaluation of WOVO by Labor Solutions

FOCUS AREA

Improving Work Environment

LOCATION

Delhi, India

REACH

2 factories, over 7,000 garment workers

PARTNERS

The Children's Place, Shahi Exports, Labour Solutions (formerly WPO)

STAGE

DESIGN

EVALUATE

ANALYZE

DISSEMINATE

SCALE-UP

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Factories have several existing mechanisms, such as anonymous complaint boxes, for workers to report their grievances or suggestions. However, they don't provide regular updates on status of their complaints, actions taken etc. We utilize a new wave of external technology-enabled tools that are now being rolled out for worker voice.

Challenge

Will workers be open to sending an SMS or downloading a mobile application to talk to their managers? Is there a business case to this?

Design

WOVO is a worker engagement technology platform designed by Labor Solutions. WOVO allows workers to anonymously submit messages (questions, grievances or suggestions) via SMS (or the WOVO smart phone application) and management to respond to, manage and gather data about these from an online dashboard. We got on board to run a randomized controlled trial evaluation to test the business and social impacts of this tool at two Shahi factories. Our evaluation was restricted to the SMS service. In our baseline survey we found that only 50% of workers own smartphones. This combined with low literacy (54% completed high school) did not favour the introduction of a mobile application.

As part of the research design, we randomly allocated the workers to two groups:

  1. [Treatment group] The first group got a formal enrollment into WOVO via training along with encouragement to use the service (in the form of SMS reminders and training sessions).
  2. [Control Group] The second group did not get a formal enrollment into the tool via training nor any kind of encouragement. Ethically, we couldn’t preclude them from using the tool, however they were not formally introduced to it or encouraged to use it.

The fact that the ‘control’ group was also able to avail WOVO limited our ability to draw causal inference. However, increased participation of workers from the treatment group (owing to formal enrollment and encouragement) helped drive differences in utilization and estimate the impact of the program.

Findings

The WOVO tool was implemented in two Shahi Exports factories covering 7,500 workers for a little over 7 months. All workers had access to the tool and could send their suggestions or grievances via SMS. Even though both groups had access to the tool, we found that:

  1. the treatment group saw significantly higher utilization of WOVO as compared to the control group.
  2. a total of 354 cases were registered 92% of which came from the treatment group.
  3. the tool also saw higher utilization compared to the traditional suggestion box. However, the overall engagement with both redressal systems remained low. WOVO saw 4.9% utilization rate while the suggestion box saw 0.52% usage.
  4. even with low usage, the tool showed a striking impact on workplace behavior. The treated workers were 10% less likely to quit, relative to the control group, and saw 5% less absenteeism relative to the control group.

Here is an article written by Labor Solutions on the results of the projects, including a webinar we conducted with Elena Fanjul-Debnam, CEO of Labor Solutions.

Scale up

In addition to the quantitative findings from our experiment, we also interacted with Human Resource managers in the two factories to understand their experience of implementing and using WOVO. We found that low literacy is a barrier to using an SMS service, and that workers sometimes prefer to talk face to face with or call factory managers. Further, the existing responsibilities of specific floor managers need to be leveraged to troubleshoot and increase the speed of this communication process. We also heard that usage of WOVO increased once workers started trusting the service. In fact, managers felt that this tool brought workers closer to the management and they all endorsed the need for such tools in all factories.