Matt Stockamp '15 - Factories, Phones and Faces in India
This past summer, I was awarded a fellowship through Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society to conduct research in India with Good World Solutions (GWS), a social enterprise at the cutting edge of building transparency in global supply chains by connecting factory workers at the base of the pyramid with supply chain managers through affordable, scalable web and mobile technologies. Since 90 per cent of India’s population, approximately 1.1 billion people, now possesses a mobile phone, companies are able to access more transparent data relating to working conditions than ever before. This information is harnessed through GWS distributing a mobile survey consisting of 12 questions to factory workers. The data from these surveys then gets analyzed and passed on to supply chain managers, who become aware of the working conditions in their contracted factories and enabled to implement changes to benefit the workers at the base of their supply chain.
As GWS recently began operating in India, their social impact in many of the factories in which they have distributed surveys is largely unknown. A fellow SCU student and I went to five clothing factories, in Delhi, Punjab, and Bangalore, observing the production floor and conducting semi-structured interviews with workers in an effort to discover how they interact with mobile technology and GWS’s survey, in addition to measuring the impact these surveys have had on their lives. As an anthropology major, it was fascinating to confront some of the is-sues researchers face when conducting research in a politically heated environment. I found it very difficult to access factories, as managers were often suspicious about the reasons I was there, and usually insisted on being present during interviews. Since these interviews largely focused on workers’ experiences with the survey and the ways in which they have seen the factory impacted as a result of it, management was okay with my research and I believe the data collected was honest and accurate.
From these observations and interviews, I found that GWS is making a positive impact in the factories where they distribute surveys. Workers feel cared for when management asks for feedback, and as mobile technology continues to develop workers will have more access to the outside world and communication with employers. In this sense, positive impact was seen. On the other hand, measuring GWS’s social impact was difficult since they act as a consultant to clothing brands that ultimately have the power to implement changes in their factories. Since many of these surveys were launched recently, more social impact analysis in the future will be beneficial, as supply chain managers will have had more time to understand the survey findings and implement changes in their factories. I learned a lot about myself and the nature of social research through this experience. In the field you deal with a lot of ambiguity, and your project seems to constantly be changing. At the heart of social research is the need to be adaptable and always spend time with your subjects. This experience motivated me to look for job opportunities with social enterprises in Latin America, and I am currently in the process of applying for and interviewing with companies operating to empower women out of poverty. I could not be more thankful to Santa Clara University for providing me this opportunity and to our Anthropology department for giving me the tools necessary to navigate this research project.