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Big Data for Better Compliance

By: Russell Jowell
Feb 17

I’m going to begin this post with a groundbreaking statement: technology has changed the world. Okay okay, I’ll admit that if you’re reading this post, you’re probably already well aware of the fact that technology has had a profound impact on our society. After all, we live in a time where your camera, music player, and telephone are all contained in one neat little compact device which can also be used to pay for things like groceries and home furnishings by simply swiping it over a sensor. But I wonder if you have ever stopped to wonder just how much technology is changing the world of social compliance and ethical fashion. In this era where currencies are open source and people are literally working on clouds, technology is having a profound effect on how decision makers at every level of the supply chain understand the products they are buying and how they make purchasing decisions.

When you take time to consider it, the growth of technology in social compliance decision making should not come as a surprise to anybody, albeit not for the reasons you might think. It’s true that part of the driver behind this trend is the “everybody else is doing it” mentality that has driven other industries to adopt more technology. But I would argue that compliance would have naturally moved closer to a technology-rich state even if the rest of the world did not follow suit, and the reason can be summed up in one word: data. It’s common knowledge that the foundation of modern social compliance is built on audits and inspections, which themselves are nothing more than endeavors to collect objective evidence (data) about the conditions within certain links along the supply chain. Stakeholders and decision makers then use this data, which itself is the backbone of technology, to choose who and where they buy from. With this in mind, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising ethical entrepreneurs figured out how to make this data push-button accessible and easily understandable for those charged with making sound sourcing decisions.

Of course, we at WRAP have been riding this wave for some time now. A good example of this is our certification database, which not only has streamlined our certification process and allowed us to experience significant growth, but has also given much greater access to the data within it both to our internal team and our external patrons. Take our Certified Facility List that has been on our website for a number of years as an example. While our previous site only allowed this list to be searched and sorted according to country, our most recent website overhaul in 2014 gave us the power to take this capability to an entirely new level. Users may now search using a combination of criteria, including certificate type, home city, expiration date, and even factory name and certificate number. Let’s say you are a sourcing executive tasked with finding a factory in a particular country and you are planning for a future order to place one year from now. Finding a WRAP factory whose certification will still be valid at the time of the order is now simply a matter of a few mouse clicks. Or perhaps you simply want to know what countries have the highest number of WRAP-certified facilities. This is actually only a matter of a single mouse click to our Certified Facilities Page where a colored map shows you at a single glance which countries have the highest concentrations of certified facilities. A similar function is also available for our list of accredited monitors, which again provides you with local in-country contact information with just a few clicks.

Just as technology is helping us to disseminate our information more efficiently, so to is it making the collection of raw information for us more efficient as well. One example of this is a trend that I am very fascinated by, though not surprised by in the least. I’m talking about the growth of so-called “worker hotline” programs, or programs that allow factory workers to file anonymous reports about incidents and overall conditions in their workplaces with CSR groups. The majority of these programs operate via mobile phone, and given the explosive growth of mobile users in the world’s top sourcing destinations, it’s natural to see how this opportunity was realized.  Asia is far and away the world’s largest mobile phone market, with China alone boasting over 1.2 billion mobile phone users, one-third of which are estimated to be smartphones. For comparison, that’s enough to give every man, woman, and child in the United States 3 phones each with enough left over to build a national repository to store one spare phone for each of those people when the inevitable water spill happens. India and Bangladesh post equally impressive mobile usage statistics. In fact, according to Ireland-based web traffic analysis company StatCounter, 70% of web access in these countries is done via mobile phone. As a compliance professional, it’s easy to see the opportunity these statistics present to create a more efficient way to gather real-time information about the conditions inside of a factory between inspections, and as WRAP President & CEO Avedis Seferian discussed in his 2015 preview interview, we intend to explore this possibility for WRAP in more depth as the year progresses. Those of you familiar with WRAP know that confidential worker interviews are an invaluable part of our audit process, and giving these workers a trusted channel though which they can dialogue directly with us in between factory visits about their daily lives is a fascinating opportunity.

Our goal here at WRAP is to be a responsive, effective, and independent social compliance management partner for the apparel and footwear industries, and advances in technology are allowing us to respond to the changing compliance environment like never before. The growth of mobile technology around the world is promising to give us an unprecedented view into the daily lives of production facilities around the world, while the internet has opened new doors for us to provide stakeholders at all levels of the supply chain with useful and practical presentations of data to help them make sound sourcing decisions. As future advances in information technology are made,we will continue to explore how they can be used to serve our mission of promoting safe, lawful, humane, and ethical manufacturing around the world.

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