How Digital Tools Can Adopt Rights-Based Principles to Support Workers

In today’s economy, the goods we consume are often produced far from where they are purchased, successively changing hands along complex and opaque corporate supply chains. Unfortunately, there are well-documented cases of forced labor throughout the supply chains of almost every corporate sector—from agriculture to construction, and from apparel to electronics.

The many well-documented reports of labor abuses, which are inherent in today’s supply chains, have captured the attention of consumers, investors, businesses, and policymakers, driving a growing market demand for more ethical solutions, including worker engagement technologies.

In 2017, Humanity United supported the establishment of the Worker Engagement Supported by Technology (WEST) Principles, which aim to maximize the impact of technology-driven efforts to identify and address the risk of abuse and exploitation of workers in global supply chains. By encouraging the adoption of a common set of guidelines, the Principles seek to ensure technology’s use will meaningfully affect workers’ lives.

In 2018 and 2019, with funds from the UK government’s Department for International Development, the co-authors of the WEST Principles engaged stakeholders at all levels of global supply chains to collectively develop a roadmap and new research to operationalize the use of the WEST Principles.

The co-authors of the WEST Principles recently published a white paper illustrating the benefits of digital tools in worker engagement efforts. It uses real-world cases to highlight important principles of technology design and usage, including, but not limited to:

  • Orienting the purpose of the technology to improve outcomes for workers;
  • Engaging local stakeholders (including public authorities) to ensure technology is responsive, appropriate, and able to have positive impact;
  • Including workers in assessment, design, and implementation processes;
  • Building employer ownership to achieve better worker participation and results;
  • Defining privacy as a fundamental human right;
  • Preparing mechanisms to handle grave problems; and
  • Collecting data that is aligned with a clear strategy to use the data.

The WEST Principles team also released a planning checklist to help service providers and companies build a technology-centered worker engagement program.

The WEST Principles community was initiated by a group of technology providers. All stakeholders who are interested in joining the WEST community are invited to endorse the WEST Principles, and affirm their commitment to improving the way technologies are designed and implemented.

The WEST Principles community continues to seek collaborators and learning opportunities to share best practices to raise the standard of practice for worker engagement technologies.