More than three months after the deadly Bangladesh factory fire and collapse, companies and consumers alike continue to grapple with the fallout and implications of the event that rocked the retail world. While many retailers are taking a closer look at their policies and practices around human rights and workplace safety via increased inspections and loans for factory improvements, one retailer is taking a markedly different approach to supply chains, engaging factory managers and employees in a process of co-creation.

In order to meet its goal to train half a million factory workers on employment rights and health and safety by 2015, U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) is focusing on employee well-being beyond the factory.  After working with A Very Good Company to understand suppliers’ priority issues, M&S developed a series of educational toolkits for its suppliers and their employers. According to Sustainable Brands, the kits focus on critical issues like “hydration, nutrition and disease prevention through cooking sessions, competitions and even on-site vegetable gardens.” To make sure M&S gains crucial feedback on the program, the retailer has asked employees in pilot markets to rate the program through mobile phone surveys. These tools create feedback loops along the supply chain, giving these critical stakeholders both a voice and the platform to make their opinions known.

Giving employees a voice in their own treatment and education to improve their lives beyond the factory showcases real commitment to creating a fair working environment. While apps like LaborVoices, described by Co.EXIST as “a Yelp for developing world workers,” let employees post anonymous reports of factory conditions, Marks & Spencer’s latest program attempts to rally suppliers and their workers together to co-create opportunities for better living, both in and out of the manufacturing facility. Companies with supply chain presence in developing countries should consider whether a similar approach is right for them – doing so may help prevent future crises.


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