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‘Press 1 for Child Labor’: Garment Workers from Bangladesh to Turkey use Cell Phones to Report Abuses

Two mobile services, both by U.S.-based companies, encourage workers to call toll-free numbers to anonymously log violations they see around them

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FILE - A worker is seen in a garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh. Two mobile services, both by U.S.-based companies, encourage workers to call toll-free numbers to anonymously log violations they see around them. VOA
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Textile workers from Bangladesh to Turkey are using cellphones to report child labor, delayed wages and trafficking – a trend rights groups say shows the promise of technology in tackling abuses in the garment industry.

Two mobile services, both by U.S.-based companies, encourage workers to call toll-free numbers to anonymously log violations they see around them.

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The idea is to give big brands early warning of problems at the furthest ends of their supply chains as they seek to comply with tougher legislation against labour exploitation and modern slavery.

“One of the big challenges for companies in locations far from their suppliers is: How do you hear from workers directly?” said Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at the NYC Stern School of Business in New York.

“When it comes to issues such as discrimination, harassment and abuse, workers have a role in flagging these problems. And as with a lot of social problems, we often look to technology for solutions,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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The two systems, Laborlink and LaborVoices, are similar. Workers call and answer simple questions, pressing 1 for “yes” and 2 for “no.”

Questions are along the lines of: Are you being treated fairly? Are wages paid on time? Are fire exits locked? Have you seen a child worker?

An analysis of calls to LaborVoices from more than 5,000 workers in Bangladesh in the first half of the year showed almost a fifth of factories had a “high risk” of child labor, Ayush Khanna, a LaborVoices director, said.

“Mobile-phone penetration in developing countries is more than 90 percent today, so it’s an obvious technology to use to increase the transparency and accountability of the supply chain,” he said in a phone interview. “The system gets around many of the limitations of traditional audits, which are slow, occasional and may be inaccurate because workers are afraid.”

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Bangladesh, which ranks only behind China as a supplier of apparel to Western countries, relies on garments for more than 80 percent of its exports and about 4 million jobs. Workers earn a minimum monthly wage of $68, compared with $280 in China.

Low wages and poor working conditions have plagued the country’s $26 billion garment export industry. Bangladesh had one of the worst industrial accidents in 2013, when more than 1,000 people were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex.

In May this year, three workers were killed in a fire at a textile factory near Dhaka.

Since the Rana Plaza disaster, legislation has been introduced for greater supply-chain transparency and improved rights and safety for workers. But progress has been slow.

The 5,239 workers who called LaborVoices in the first half of the year worked in 85 factories in Dhaka and Chittagong, which supplied more than 30 global brands including Walmart, Target, Zara, Adidas, H&M and Levi’s, Khanna said. LaborVoices is also tracking abuse of Syrian migrant workers in Turkey’s garment industry, seeking evidence of forced labor and trafficking, Khanna said.

Laborlink has reached more than 500,000 workers in 16 countries from China to Colombia, the company says. But while technology can help flag abuses in the supply

chain, it cannot single-handedly solve them, Labowitz said.

“Calls from workers is a good system to have, but it is not a substitute for audits and checks,” she said. “You need both to tackle the issues in the supply chain.” (VOA)

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Aadhaar Helpline Mystery: French Security Expert Tweets of doing a Full Disclosure Tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App

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Google's new tool can help you make our planet healthy. Wikimedia Commons

Google’s admission that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI helpline number into its setup wizard for Android devices triggered another controversy on Saturday as India’s telecom regulator had only recommended the use of 112 as an emergency number in April 2015.

After a large section of smartphone users in India saw a toll-free helpline number of UIDAI saved in their phone-books by default, Google issued a statement, saying its “internal review revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since”.

Aadhaar Helpline Number Mystery: French security expert tweets of doing a full disclosure tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended only in April 2015 that the number 112 be adopted as the single emergency number for the country.

According to Google, “since the numbers get listed on a user’s contact list, these get  transferred accordingly to the contacts on any new device”.

Google was yet to comment on the new development.

Meanwhile, French security expert that goes by the name of Elliot Alderson and has been at the core of the entire Aadhaar controversy, tweeted on Saturday: “I just found something interesting. I will probably do full disclosure tomorrow”.

“I’m digging into the code of the @Google SetupWizard app and I found that”.

“As far as I can see this object is not used in the current code, so there is no implications. This is just a poor coding practice in term of security,” he further tweeted.

On Friday, both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as well as the telecom operators washed their hand of the issue.

While the telecom industry denied any role in the strange incident, the UIDAI said that he strange incident, the UIDAI said that some vested interests were trying to create “unwarranted confusion” in the public and clarified that it had not asked any manufacturer or telecom service provider to provide any such facility.

Twitter was abuzz with the new development after a huge uproar due to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma’s open Aadhaar challenge to critics and hackers.

Ethical hackers exposed at least 14 personal details of the TRAI Chairman, including mobile numbers, home address, date of birth, PAN number and voter ID among others. (IANS)

Also Read: Why India Is Still Nowhere Near Securing Its Citizens’ Data?