Are you prepared for new regulations requiring effective grievance mechanisms for workers?  | Featured: Toyworld

Find out how members of the Ethical Supply Chain Program (ESCP) benefit from the ESCP Worker Helpline: an effective grievance mechanism, operational for over 13 years.

June 20, 2023

June 2023, Aoife McCarthy, Digital Marketing & Membership Executive, IETP This article was originally published in the June 2023 edition of Toyworld Magazine.

Find out how members of the ICTI Ethical Toy Program (IETP) benefit from the IETP Worker Helpline: an effective grievance mechanism, operational for over 13 years.

Supply chains are an essential part of the global economy, connecting businesses and consumers across the world. However, factory workers and other professionals who are critical to the success of these supply chains can face a variety of complex challenges. These can include unfair wages, poor working conditions, and limited access to support and resources. At worst, supply chains can hide the most egregious human rights issues, such as forced labor and child labor.

As a specialist labor and environmental standards program, the ICTI Ethical Toy Program (IETP) understands these risks and how they can be mitigated, along with the importance of treating workers fairly. IETP was created by the toy industry to oversee the implementation of its Code of Business Practices, a code that set out the standards expected of the industry, created by the industry, for the industry. IETP has continued to develop that standard to ensure it helps companies meet their objectives, commitments to consumers and obligations to regulators. IETP works with companies to eradicate labor standards issues and promote ethical labor practices in all industries in the global supply chain. IETP does this primarily through its certification program but also goes beyond certification and audits to provide support, guidance and worker-well-being programs – including employer-funded childcare services –to deliver an improved work-life balance for factory workers.‬

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the need to provide worker helplines and grievance mechanisms, to identify and address inequalities. This has been underscored by the introduction of global legislation, including the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, which introduced obligations relating to human rights and environmental risks and violations; directly requiring the implementation of a complaints procedure.

IETP has implemented and required its Worker Helpline to be deployed in all factories in its program for over thirteen years. In recent years, IETP’s Helpline has expanded to be utilized in new industry sectors and for bespoke projects, including for the construction industry, where there is a high risk of rights violations and often poor labor standards. The IETP Helpline is a free, confidential, grievance mechanism and support helpline for workers. IETP has teams on the ground, stationed where workers are, so as soon as a Helpline case is escalated, IETP investigates. 100% of all cases received are closed. One of the key benefits of IETP’s established and trusted Worker Helpline is that it provides a direct line of communication for workers to report issues and concerns related to their working conditions. The Helpline is manned by real people who are expertly trained in identifying when a caller is being avoidant or covering-up an issue. IETP’s expert staff help to identify, resolve and address issues quickly before they can escalate into larger problems, which, for many other programs, are then only identified through audit reports. The Helpline provides an effective, safe, and confidential channel for workers to report issues without fear of retaliation or of an issue being ignored. The IETP team and program members, can view Worker Helpline data through Connect, IETP’s factory oversight and management technology platform. Data collected from the Helpline is gathered, analyzed, and housed in Connect, allowing users to gain an understanding of the situation on the ground in their associated factories. Connect features include data on the number and type of calls made by workers and the number of calls escalated. Data can be exported easily enabling further analysis, reporting and informed capability-building planning.

In addition to improving workplace conditions, the Helpline provides data for reporting and enables companies to meet regulatory requirements all over the world. In recent years, there have been various due diligence acts introduced globally, with varying requirements for transparency and complaints procedures. These include: the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act; the Proposed EU Supply Chain Regulations; and the U.S. Forced Labor Prevention Act. Effective grievance mechanisms are known to help identify and remediate the most serious of human rights issues.

Matt Friedman, CEO of the Mekong Club, said:

“Worker helplines and grievance mechanisms are essential tools for improving the lives of supply chain workers. By providing a safe and confidential way for workers to report issues and concerns, these mechanisms can help to identify and address systemic issues within supply chains. We are very impressed with the impact of IETP’s Helpline and the impressive outcome of this work in addressing worker issues.”.

The Mekong Club works with the private sector to bring sustainable practices against modern slavery across the globe and IETP is a proud member. 100% of IETP program members utilize the Helpline and have access to monthly Helpline analytics because the Helpline is a mandatory feature of IETP’s certification platform. This means that as a program participant, you already have a long-established grievance mechanism in place. It is independent, so it is trusted and transparent. For IETP program members, there is no additional cost for the Helpline. The IETP Worker Helpline is, however, available to non-member companies and can be deployed as a standalone service. In 2022, IETP’s Helpline received around 1,500 calls from 800 factories in China and Vietnam. Each case was fully investigated, escalated (where required), and closed. It is reassuring to note from the Helpline data that only around 10% of the cases received related to labor standards non-compliance. IETP sees three types of cases or calls generally:

  1. Callers who have a misunderstanding of their obligations in the workplace
  2. Callers who have a personal concern, unrelated to their work, but nonetheless looking for support or advice
  3. And finally, callers who are experiencing a breach of their workplace contract or conditions

2022 Helpline data showed one of the top reasons for calling was to discuss personal issues. In addition to identifying non-compliances and labor standards issues, worker helplines and grievance mechanisms help to improve the overall well-being of supply chain workers. By providing access to support and resources, these mechanisms can help workers address issues such as financial stress, mental health, and physical health. This also benefits businesses, leading to improved job satisfaction, higher productivity, a more engaged workforce, and improved worker retention rates.

Wendy Chu, Compliance Director at The Marketing Store, Asia, says

“IETP’s Helpline is an effective grievance mechanism providing workers a safe, confidential space for their voices to be heard. Importantly, 100% of cases are remedied and IETP’s on-the-ground teams play a vital role in helping us to ensure workers' issues are resolved effectively and efficiently.”

IETP can also produce bespoke reporting for companies and deploy worker surveys or host worker in-person discussions on specific topics, for example, gender equality in the workplace.  Regular reporting allows organizations to identify recurring issues which can be used for remediation and to inform factory and working training priorities, such as improving management skills and the behavior of supervisors.

Amita Lam, Director, Global Head of Governance, Risk Management & Compliance at Mattel, adds,

“Together with IETP and insights gained from the IETP Helpline data, we are able to enhance our training for factory management and teams, resulting in improved working environments.”

IETP is committed to enabling greater access globally to the IETP Helpline and is planning further deployments in Mexico, Thailand and Malaysia. Carmel Giblin, CEO of IETP, confirms that IETP will continue to respond to companies' needs by expanding the on-the-ground Helpline teams wherever they are needed.

“As we continue to grow and work with new industries globally, we will ensure the expertise we have is used to increase the accessibility of the IETP Worker Helpline”, she states.

The success of the IETP Worker Helpline can be attributed to the awareness that workers have of the Helpline and their trust in contacting the team. IETP provides materials to factories and workers, to ensure every worker in the factory knows about the Helpline, how to contact the team and how it operates. Many companies have in-house processes for raising a grievance, but these are not always trusted or effective. The IETP Worker Helpline provides an alternative channel, trusted by workers and management alike.