Oxfam: Unilever progresses on labour rights in Vietnam, but much more to be done
A new report published today by Oxfam finds Unilever's overall commitment to labour rights in its Vietnam supply chain has improved over the last three years, but that significant challenges remain.
The report follows a previous study in 2013 which highlighted the gap between the company's policies and the reality on the ground for workers of precarious work, low wages and excessive working hours, which Oxfam says are endemic in global supply chains like these.
The multinational company allowed Oxfam access to its staff, operations, data and key suppliers at its factory in Cu Chi, near Ho Chi Minh City, which manufactures personal, home care, and food products.
Evidence of Unilever's improved commitment to labour rights includes regular dialogue with trade unions at a global level, better sourcing policies, increased trust between workers and management and a commitment to more direct employment in its manufacturing operations, bringing greater job security and employment benefits.
However, the review also showed there is a lot more to be done to achieve sustained positive change for workers making its products in Vietnam and other parts of its supply chain, something the company acknowledges.
The study found that wages of a typical semi-skilled worker in Unilever's factory had increased 48 percent between July 2011 and July 2015, helped by government increases in the minimum wage, but lower skilled workers with dependants said they still struggled to make ends meet.
Oxfam also found that more people were directly employed in the company's factory. However, the percentage of women was down from 19 percent in 2011 to 13 percent in 2015 whilst women made up two thirds (67 percent) of those employed by a third party supplier with lower wages and benefits.
In the supply chain, the report highlights that suppliers are much more aware of Unilever's expectations on labour standards, but lacked guidance on how they can deliver on these and meet commercial requirements at the same time, with four out of five suppliers believing better standards would cost them more.
The report recommends that Unilever steps up its efforts to ensure gender equality in its manufacturing operations and do more to influence the wider system affecting labour rights, from worker representation and business practices to engaging with governments.
Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam's Ethical Trade Manager, said: "It's unusual for a multinational company to open up its business to Oxfam in this way and shows great transparency and openness to improve. It's clear that the process has already brought positive change within the company and most importantly for the people making its products, and has the potential to deliver much more.
"Yet huge challenges remain for multinational companies to ensure workers enjoy good jobs on a living wage, with opportunities for women to progress. Unilever has recognised the need for companies to do business differently. All too often companies feel pressure to put containing costs above better labour standards. Ways need to be found for workers, farmers and communities to get a fairer share of the value that business generates, and women's empowerment should be embedded in that strategy.
"Oxfam would like to see Unilever use its power to influence other companies, and governments, to tackle the root causes of poor labour standards. But it is also time for these companies to step up and follow Unilever's lead."
Download a copy of the report Labour Rights in Vietnam: Unilever's progress and systemic challenges
Fluent.ai x BSH: Voice Automating the Assembly Line
Fluent.ai has deployed its voice recognition solutions in one of BSH’s German factories. BSH leads the market in producing connected appliances—its brands include Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, NEFF, and Thermador, and with this new partnership, the company intends to cut transition time in its assembly lines.
According to BSH, voice automation will yield 75-100% efficiency gains—but it’s the collaboration between the two companies that stands out. ‘After considering 11 companies for this partnership, we chose Fluent.ai because of their key competitive differentiators’, explained Ion Hauer, Venture Partner at BSH Startup Kitchen.
What Sets Fluent.ai Apart?
After seven years of research, the company developed a wide range of artificial intelligence (AI) software products to help original equipment manufacturers (OEM) expand their services. Three key aspects stood out to BSH, which operates across the world and in unique factory environments.
- Robust noise controls. The system can operate even in loud conditions.
- Low latency. The AI understands commands quickly and accurately.
- Multilingual support. BSH can expand the automation to any of its 50+ country operations.
How Voice Automation Works
Instead of pressing buttons, BSH factory workers will now be able to speak into a headset fitted with Fluent.ai’s voice recognition technology. After uttering a WakeWord, workers can use a command to start assembly line movement. As the technology is hands-free, workers benefit from less physical strain, which will both reduce employee fatigue and boost line production.
‘Implementing Fluent’s technology has already improved efficiencies within our factory, with initial implementation of the solution cutting down the transition time from four seconds to one and a half”, said Markus Maier, Project Lead at the BSH factory. ‘In the long run, the production time savings will be invaluable’.
Future Global Adoption
In the coming years, BSH and Fluent.ai will continue to push for artificial intelligence on factory lines, pursuing efficiency, ergonomics, and a healthy work environment. ‘We started with Fluent.ai on one factory assembly line, moved to three, and [are now] considering rolling the technology out worldwide’, said Maier.
Said Probal Lala, Fluent.ai’s CEO: ‘We are thrilled to be working with BSH, a company at the forefront of innovation. Seeing your solution out in the real world is incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration’.