“Sustify is a digital bottom-up approach to capacity building that targets (also illiterate) workers individually”- Sonja Westphal, Founder and CEO, Sustify

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Sustify is a measurable and scalable eLearning platform for factories. It offers courses on topics such as fire protection, occupational health and safety (OHS) and the basics of workers’ rights and obligations – a pre-requisite for an effective grievance mechanism. It wants to revolutionise supply chain management with passion and new technologies. Sustify is working for our RMG industry for a long time.

Sonja Westphal is the Founder and CEO of Sustify. Denim Focus Coordinator Pranta Biswas Recently Talked with Ms Sonja. She is a passionate social entrepreneur who was shocked to witness the catastrophic production conditions and the high level of environmental pollution during her travels in Asia. That’s when she decided to invest her energies into making sure that outsourcing production to such countries did not simply lead to the outsourcing of environmental degradation and to the exploitation of workers. After reorienting her career with a master’s degree in environmental and sustainability management, she decided to change not only on a private level but also to try and make a difference professionally.

The interview is drafted below for our Readers and Industry people.

Could you please brief about Sustify?

A typical social compliance audit provides only a snapshot of a supplier’s performance. In a standard social compliance audit, an assessor visits a supplier site and prepares a report based on what has been observed that day. This often does not reflect the reality in the factories.

Education and training for the workforce ensure that the underlying principles of standards are understood and maintained throughout the year. Sustify is a digital bottom-up approach to capacity building that targets (also illiterate) workers individually. Training measures become effective, transparent and measurable and it helps factories and their international client to comply with the (new) German Supply Chain Act and the EU Directive to come and provide solid proof of training.

Our training can be combined with grievance management and can serve as onboarding to understanding rights and responsibilities (i.e. the hotline is integrated into the training).

How are you supporting Apparel Manufacturing Industry in terms of productivity?

It has been scientifically proven that investing in occupational safety and health is not only beneficial for employees. It pays off for employers, too, because an accident that doesn’t happen obviously doesn’t cost money. Our research found that every dollar a company spends on prevention yields an average return of $1.60. In other words, prevention increases employee fitness, productivity and production efficiency in general. In this way, business owners get back more than one and a half times the original cost. (s. study attached)

An empowered workforce is more productive. Empowered means, not just following instructions, but understanding OHS and the reasons and goals behind it. Also, effective workplace communication and problem-solving thinking make the workforce more productive. Grievance management contributes to the overall well-being of the workforce, and motivated workers considerably impact productivity.

What is Sustify’s sustainability Approach?

Sustify wants to offer a low-threshold and motivating entry into workplace learning for female garment workers with a little learning experience. Sustify is an interactive e-learning platform used on tablets that empower workers, by learning about work-related topics and increasing digital skills.  The courses have been especially designed for workers. Among its unique features: are individual training for real learning effect, easy-to-grasp training material for all users (including illiterate ones) and learning content dynamically tailored to each user’s progress.

We have 2 courses finalized for OHS and human rights/grievance management. The courses take 6 weeks with one weekly login per learner of 15 minutes of training because we want to increase retention based on the principle of spacing and repetition and we don’t believe in the effect of one-off interventions.

Currently, we focus on social standards, if required we will also develop courses for the economic pillar of sustainability (e.g. lean management to increase productivity) and environmental topics.

What is your observation about Bangladesh RMG Industry? Any Message to the Industry?

I got the impression that factories in Bangladesh are reacting to pressure from international brands. They do, what is required. I think that a system change would be to become partners on eye level. That requires a change in mindset both from international brands as well as the suppliers in Bangladesh.

Value-based ethical business tactics will win in the future, in a world, which is becoming less and less plannable. Investments are more and more taken based on ESG criteria. Sustainability always pays off in the long term, and money will flow more and more into businesses, which are value driven. It is time that Bangladesh loses the reputation of corruption, factory fires and exploitation of people and nature and is acting – not only reacting – to show that Bangladesh is a forward-thinking country, trying innovative approaches in order to make the business sustainable.

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