Marks & Spencer (M&S) has signed a one-year contract to work with social enterprise technology provider Good World Solutions to facilitate direct communications with workers in its clothing supply chain via mobile technology.

M&S will use Labor Link, technology that returns anonymous, quantitative survey results to M&S direct from supply chain workers. Workers listen to questions on their mobile phones in Hindi, Sinhalese, or another local language, and respond using their touch-tone keypad. Good World Solutions claims can reach 400% more workers during a standard two-day audit than in-person interviews, with more accurate data, faster analysis and a lower price-tag. Patagonia was among the first western apparel brands to use the technology to bore deeper into practices of its supply chain partners.

As part of its Plan A program, M&S has already tested the technology with 13 suppliers in India and Sri Lanka, surveying over 2,000 workers as part of M&S’ financial literacy and health and nutrition Plan A training programs. With the support of its suppliers, M&S will now roll out the service to 30 factories and 22,500 workers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, gathering feedback on subjects such as working conditions, job satisfaction and training. Four surveys are planned a year. There is no cost to the workers to use the technology and a minimal cost for the M&S suppliers to receive the summary data.

“This is an innovative breakthrough for us and moves workplace communication into the digital era,” said Fiona Sadler, head of ethical sourcing at Marks & Spencer. “It’s not about checking up on our suppliers, it’s about making sure we’re doing the right things for the workers in our supply chain and giving them a voice. We don’t directly employ workers in the factories, but they make Marks & Spencer products, take part in Marks & Spencer training programs and have a stake in our brand. It’s important to know whether we’re getting things right. The real time data Labor Link can deliver for us will be invaluable in shaping our policies and programs.”

Marks & Spencer becomes the first UK company to use the technology, according to Heather Franzese, director of Good World Solutions. “As the first UK company to give workers a voice through mobile technology, M&S is really taking a leadership position. There are 4.5 billion mobile subscriptions in the developing world. This is a truly disruptive innovation in ethical trade – enabling workers and buyers to connect directly.”