Beyond the technology

Improving labor conditions and social dialogue in the Latin American sugar cane industry with KoboToolbox

Workers in the sugar industry in Latin America often face challenging working conditions, including low wages, scarce drinking water in the fields, long working days, insufficient break times, and lack of opportunity to freely organize as workers. These labor conditions represent critical social issues which are often missed in sustainability audit reports. As sugar cane represents a growing sector, it is essential that companies and organizations continue to work towards collaboration with workers for improved labor rights in the industry.

Finding ways to support workers in this sector is critical as global consumption of cane sugar has increased by almost 40% in the last two decades, reaching a volume of 193.2 million tons in 2020. The level of consumption is expected to continue to grow. © CNV Internationaal 2023

KoboToolbox is central to an initiative that is actively engaging in improving labor conditions for workers at the beginning of the cane sugar supply chain. The Labor Rights Observatory, an initiative established by CNV Internationaal in partnership with its trade union counterparts worldwide, was born out of the growing need to monitor and evaluate compliance with workers’ rights in important production and supply chains. Insights gathered by the initiative have been compiled into the first annual report for the Latin American sugar cane sector, setting the stage for ongoing monitoring of industry trends in years to come, as well as improved transparency and social dialogue.

Using digital tools to conduct [CNV Internationaal’s] survey is unprecedented in the region and has created new ways of engaging with workers. © CNV Internationaal 2023

By providing a platform for the voices of the workers to be heard, CNV Internationaal was able to gather vital information about labor conditions in the cane sugar value chain in the region. Together with Profundo, CNV Internationaal has committed to working with trade union associations in Latin America to identify strategies to enable further dialogue and continue to analyze labor conditions in the region’s sugar chain.

In July and August 2021, the project team worked in sugar chains in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. During this time, they focused on building meaningful connections with workers at each stage of production to encourage them to share their personal experiences and opinions in the participatory digital monitoring survey.

[The use of participatory digital monitoring tools] has turned out to be a step forward in the arduous task of achieving honest and direct social dialogue that includes everyone. - CNV Internationaal

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the team was able to continue to develop the participatory digital monitoring survey by using the features offered by KoboToolbox. With a focus on social dialogue and living wage, the project team collected data from workers using participatory digital monitoring tools. Using digital tools for data collection was unprecedented in the region and enabled the project team to engage with workers in new and creative ways. To broaden the reach of the project, the team used digital platforms such as social media, email, and digital messaging apps while unions in each country facilitated face-to-face communication with workers. Overall, they succeeded in reaching over 800 respondents.

One of the most critical challenges was to have the chance to listen to the voices of workers who does not know to read or write, also to have the chance of knowing the labor conditions of communities that has not being heard before, because this workers are isolated either on the sugar cane fields or down deep in the mines. - CNV Internationaal

As part of their ongoing commitment to labor rights and fair work, CNV Internationaal has developed three participatory digital monitoring surveys to provide oversight for sugar and mining supply chains. To date, they have already collected crucial insights from over 1,500 workers.

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