case study

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Question Description

Read the case, answer the questions below:

  1. What is Kohl Gill’s vision? What does he hope to accomplish by founding LaborVoices?
  2. Who are the potential customers of LaborVoices, and what is the value proposition for each? That is, what problem or problem could LaborVoices solve for them?
  3. What are the key resources and unique capabilities that LaborVoices brings?
  4. What are the company’s potential revenue streams?
  5. What are Kohl Gill’s options, with respect to a business model? In your opinion, what business model should he select, and why?

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LaborVoices: Bringing Transparency to the Global Supply Chain Ronald M. Roman, San José State University Anne T. Lawrence, San José State University Chirag Amin T he Karnataka State Bus swerved sharply on the highway to Bangalore, India. It was 2 a.m. local time, but Kohl Gill, who had flown to India from San Francisco by way of Newark, Frankfurt, Ahmedabad, and Mumbai, had not yet adjusted to the new time zone and was wide awake in the sleeper bus. All around, on this summer night in 2010, the lights of the fast-growing city of eight million—a hotbed of entrepreneurialism and a center of the South Asian garment industry— sprawled over a wide area. Gill had travelled to Bangalore on a mission. A physicist, policy expert, and human rights activist, the thirty-four-year old Californian dreamed of establishing a technology-enabled social enterprise called LaborVoices to bring transparency to the global supply chain. Now, as the bus slowed, he allowed his mind to imagine what his efforts, and those of his partners, might make possible. Gill closed his eyes and imagined a young woman walking out of a garment factory at the end of her shift on a mild early evening. This young woman, like many others, had come to Bangalore from a rural area in southeastern India in search of a job. She had succeeded—she was now employed as a sewing machine operator in a large factory that produced fashionable, branded clothing for export. But much about her situation still confused her, including if her wages and working hours were fair. She quickly walked down the narrow lane leading to the bus stop. Ahead, she noticed a large group of factory workers congregated around a rickshaw that had parked on the side of the road. A woman was talking into a microphone, her voice amplified through a loudspeaker that had been mounted on top of the vehicle. “Do you know your rights? Do you know who to complain to if you have a problem? Give us a call. It’s free.” As the young garment worker passed by, a man handed her a flyer. Later, settling into her seat on the bus, she pulled out the flyer and began to read. It was written in Kannada, her native language, and seemed to be advertising some kind of a service offered by a workers’ rights organization. Apparently, garment workers could access this service by calling a number, free of charge. Since she had nothing else to do on the forty-five-minute ride to the hostel where she was staying, she pulled out her mobile phone and punched in the number. She did not have many possessions, but she Copyright © 2014 by the Case Research Journal and by and the authors; all rights reserved. An earlier version of this case was presented at the October, 2012 annual meeting of the North American Case Research Association (NACRA). The authors wish to thank Kohl Gill, Deborah Ettington, and three anonymous reviewers for their assistance in the preparation of this case. The case, which is not disguised, is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. LaborVoices: Bringing Transparency to the Global Supply Chain 1 did have a mobile phone—something she considered an absolute necessity to keep in touch with her parents and siblings back home. “Welcome to LV-Connect,” said a female recorded voice, speaking in Kannada. The voice offered options to listen to recorded information on workers’ rights and to participate in a short survey. Selecting the option to listen to information on workers’ rights, she was surprised to hear that according to the law, workers were supposed to be paid twice their normal wages for overtime. “That rule definitely doesn’t get followed in our factory!” she muttered. The voice also provided information about minimum wages and rights to unionize. Out of curiosity, she then accessed the survey, which asked questions about her wages, hours, and overtime which she could answer by punching in numbers on her phone. This was followed by several open-ended questions. “Have you heard of any instances of abuse or harassment in your factory?” the voice asked politely, followed by a beep. Startled, she had to think for a moment. Could they trace it back to her? No, she decided. After all, she had not provided her name. She took a deep breath and started talking into her phone. A few hours later, five activists gathered around a table in their cramped office. “We got a lot of responses to our survey today,” remarked one. “And we got two complaints about that manager at A1 Exports—on top of the seven complaints we’ve already had on that same guy. I will prepare a report this evening.” Meanwhile, halfway around the world in Sweden, an employee in the office of corporate social responsibility at a global clothing retailer noted an email when she scanned her inbox the next morning. “Possible excessive and improperly compensated overtime at the A1 Export factory in Bangalore,” it read. She picked up her phone to call a colleague in the procurement department. “I’m noticing a connection between our rush orders and the number of overtime complaints coming in from workers in Bangalore. Some of them are pretty serious. Let’s see if we can’t do something about our lead times.” The email continued: “Possible cluster of harassment complaints.” The employee frowned. Many of the global clothing retailer’s young female customers were sensitive to that issue, and complaints from activists could spread quickly. Gill’s reverie was interrupted by the driver asking the passengers to prepare for their final stop in Bangalore. Kohl straightened up from his bunk and checked his luggage. Gill had taken a critical step by travelling to Bangalore. Now, he faced the challenge of making his dream a reality. What business model would be most effective for the fledgling LaborVoices? Could he find a reliable source of revenue? What skills and capabilities could he bring to the venture? What partnerships did he need to build? Could his efforts actually improve the lives of garment workers like the young woman he so vividly imagined? Kohl Gill Kulvinder “Kohl” Singh Gill, the sixth of seven children, was born in 1976 in rural northern Mississippi to parents who had emigrated from the Punjab state in India. His mother was a nurse, and his father was a laborer at a local scrap yard, where he would find and bring home machine and electronic parts for his children to tinker with. As a boy, Gill attended the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, a public school for students who excelled in these disciplines. This preparation led him to the California Institute of Technology, also known as Caltech, where he studied semiconductor physics as a scholarship student. In college, Gill realized he wanted to 2 Case Research Journal • Volume 34 • Issue 4 • Fall 2014 use his training to work in science policy, believing he could have a greater impact in government service than in a research laboratory. He went on to earn a doctorate in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2005, with the intention of pursuing a career in science policy. After graduation, Gill became an Indicorps Fellow. Indicorps recruited diaspora Indians—persons of Indian descent no longer living in that country—to return to India temporarily to aid its development. During his fellowship year, Gill worked as a paralegal in slum areas of Delhi, where he helped residents fight corruption, which was rampant in the country. India’s parliament had recently passed the Right to Information Act of 2005. This law allowed individuals to ask government officials for public information; officials who did not comply were subject to penalties. Gill’s office was able to use this law to help citizens avoid paying bribes to facilitate routine transactions. We would use this new law, and people’s lives would radically change. You are talking about people who were living on a hand-to-mouth basis. They are living partially on subsidized food and supplies provided by the government. If something happened and they lost the equivalent of their social security card, it would cost them thousands of rupees to replace it. There is no official government fee; it was all because of corruption. This was a devastating system for them. We would go with them or send a note with them to the government office and once the government officer saw the note, they would know the gig was up. They would have to provide the services straight away. The core of that law was transparency. His experiences fighting corruption in India led Gill to reflect deeply about the power of transparency. He recalled: I was thinking a lot about the philosophical implications of this. What does transparency mean? How broadly can we apply it? What else can we use transparency to do? The more I thought about it, the more transparency won the day for me as a personal philosophy and goal to strive for. Labor Standards in U.S. Trade Agreements While in India, Gill applied for and received a fellowship at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., where he examined the efficacy of science policy. After eighteen months in that position, in 2008 he accepted a fellowship at the U.S. Department of State. There, he worked in the labor office of the human rights bureau, focusing on labor rights, corporate social responsibility, and Internet freedom. He was placed in charge of the South Asia region. At the State Department, Gill worked with a wide variety of labor groups, including grassroots organizations, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), in-country suppliers, and major multinational corporations. A key activity of the State Department, Gill learned, was executing and monitoring trade agreements. Most included provisions mandating fair working conditions, and the State Department had responsibility for investigating allegations of improper practices in factories in countries with which the United States had trade agreements. In carrying out these investigations, Gill was frequently frustrated. Often, the best information he could get was from reports written by nongovernmental organizations or audits conducted by third-party vendors. The data was typically at least several months old. When confronted with possible problems, the factory managers would LaborVoices: Bringing Transparency to the Global Supply Chain 3 insist that everything had been addressed since the auditors had visited. Clearly, lack of timeliness was a problem. Gill also spoke with representatives of what he called “the brands”—companies that were sourcing branded goods from countries covered by these trade agreements. Many complained that they found it difficult to know exactly what was going on in their supply chains, even if they carried out audits or hired others to do so. The companies often had to wait three to six months after factories were audited to receive the results, and even then, the audits were only a snapshot of conditions at one point in time. Some company representatives said they had little confidence in the audits. They had heard stories about inspectors arriving at half-empty factories, where it appeared that underage workers and anyone who might have complained about conditions had been sent home before they arrived. At the same time, the companies told Gill they wanted to do better. They especially wanted to support best-in-class suppliers which they had spent a lot of time training. Gill’s work for the State Department also took him back to South Asia, where he researched labor conditions by talking directly with factory workers. He recalled several conversations with workers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh: I wanted to know why the workers did not protest or switch jobs if their working conditions were not acceptable. What they told me was that they were afraid to speak out, because they might be blacklisted. Often, they didn’t know what other jobs were available. The workers’ answers indicated both fear and a lack of knowledge about other employment opportunities. They felt that other factories probably treated workers the same way, so it wouldn’t make any difference if they switched employers. I thought to myself that the key problem here was the workers’ lack of information. And they weren’t the only ones who lacked information—often even the factories’ owners did not know what their managers were doing. I thought to myself, if we could use technology to bring transparency to this situation, a lot of exciting things could happen. Mobile Technology and Labor Rights In his factory visits, Gill observed that almost all the workers had mobile phones. This planted a seed to which he would later return. During his final months at the State Department, Gill wrote a thought piece titled, “Mobile Technology and Labor Rights,” outlining how mobile phones could be used to advance transparency in supply chains. He began his essay with a story that illustrated just how poorly immigrant workers often were informed: Consider a worker preparing to migrate to a distant factory. She has heard that the wage in the factory is a good one, and that there is a representative union to defend her interests. She has heard that there are suitable living and dining facilities and other service providers, available at a reasonable cost. She has heard that a particular labor broker will arrange for her to travel to this factory to work, for a large fee that is manageable because of the factory wage she is quoted. And finally, if the situation turns out not to be acceptable, she has heard that she can leave any time she likes. In practice, such a worker often finds that none of these facts are true. She is not paid well, or on time. She is either not represented by any union, or the union is corrupt and doesn’t represent the workers’ interests. Her living and dining facilities are poor or non-existent, or are owned by the employer in a “company store” situation. Her takehome pay is so small as to double the time she will be in debt to the labor broker. In some situations her documentation is confiscated, holding her in virtual captivity. This 4 Case Research Journal • Volume 34 • Issue 4 • Fall 2014 worker is especially vulnerable because she must rely on a very poor set of information sources. Mobile phone technology, Gill argued, could help workers get the information they needed to make good choices. The use of cell phones had exploded in South Asia; by 2009, 525 million Indians had wireless phone service (out of a total population of 1.2 billion).1 Already cell phones had been put to use in many places to make life better for ordinary people. For example, in his travels in South Asia, Gill had become aware of a company called CellBazaar, sometimes called the “Craigslist of Bangladesh.” CellBazaar provided a platform for buyers and sellers of all kinds to connect with one another using text messages on their mobile phones. Launched in 2006, the startup had quickly attracted millions of users and had significantly driven down transaction costs in many markets, from agricultural commodities to school tutoring. Another company he had learned about was babajob.com, an Indian firm that used a mobile platform to help employers and job seekers find each other, using voice and text messaging. Gill believed that mobile phones could be used to collect information from factory workers, using a crowdsourcing model. Crowdsourcing was similar to outsourcing, in that individuals outside the organization were tapped to solve a problem, provide information, or supply a service. Unlike outsourcing, however, those performing the crowdsourced activity were not a centrally-organized group, but rather a distributed group, referred to as “the crowd.” For example, the mobile application Waze gathered real-time information from drivers on the road—the crowd—to provide up-to-the minute traffic guidance and navigational aids to other users. Similarly, Gill argued, mobile technology could be used to gather information from workers and then “push it out into the world” to help others. “With greater access to accurate information,” Gill wrote about his illustrative worker, “she could make more informed choices. Such access to information would, in the long run, force employers, unions, and service providers to compete for workers, rather than the other way around.” Gill thought using mobile technology to crowdsource valuable intelligence from workers might benefit not only workers, but also the supplier factories, the brands, and consumers. He reflected: Everyone deserves a chance to find decent work, and to find that work, workers need to know the reputations of employers. Workers may not have many choices individually, but they can each contribute to painting an accurate picture of their employers. Enough worker opinions would yield reliable reputations of employers, helping future workers find decent work, and avoid trafficking and other labor abuses. More than simply steering workers toward better jobs, this intelligence could also steer multinational brands toward better suppliers, and steer consumers toward better products. Gill distributed his essay widely within the State Department and beyond. He had initially conceived of a project that would be started with government funding. Although many people were enthusiastic about his idea, most thought it should be pursued outside of government. “The Idea” Gill’s contract position at the State Department ended in 2009, and he moved back to California, joining some family members in the San Francisco Bay Area. He began looking for jobs in the energy industry, government, and social investing, but his LaborVoices: Bringing Transparency to the Global Supply Chain 5 “heart wasn’t in it,” he recalled. Instead, he kept thinking about the concept outlined in his essay—which he had begun calling “The Idea.” Gill recalled: I’d been sensing more and more of a business opportunity. I knew that The Idea was compelling, and that no one was doing it already. I also knew that it was potentially lucrative, if only to displace in-person inspections. What pushed me over the edge, I guess, was that someone else could try to do it, while I was just thinking about it. In the wrong hands, this model could actually hurt workers, instead of helping them. Gill began reaching out to contacts in the social enterprise community, including people at Omidyar Network, the Skoll Foundation, Humanity United, and Benetech. Nearly everywhere he went, he was encouraged to launch “The Idea” as a business, possibly as an experiment for a year. A friend at Benetech advised him to incorporate as a C corporation, both in order to limit his own liability and to open the possibility of bringing in investors at a later time. He discarded the idea of becoming a nonprofit. He explained: I was familiar with nonprofits. In fact, I was running the board meetings of ICA [Indians for Collective Action] at the time. I was concerned about being governed by a board of directors that did not have the deep background I had in the subject. Also, I saw the potential for this to have an eventual financial payoff, and I thought that I— and any other team members—should be able to realize a part of that. Gill’s partner, Maura, was supportive, pointing out that he had savings that could carry him over for a time. So were other friends and colleagues. Gill recounted: A few weeks later, I confessed my biggest fears over dinner with a close friend. When he asked what I was so scared of, I talked about the prospect of screwing up, of failing to meet payroll, and having to lay people off. He showed me how ridiculous it was to worry about that at such an early ...
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ProfessorEmily
School: Purdue University

Attached.

Running head: LABORVOICES: BRINGING TRANSPARENCY TO GSC

Laborvoices: Bringing Transparency to GSC
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LABORVOICES: BRINGING TRANSPARENCY TO GSC

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Question 1:
Southern India is the largest producer of textiles and garments in the world, but the labor
conditions in many factories are terrible. Issues were dominant, but finding a solution to these
problems was difficult. Labor brokers misled employs; factory audits by brands that had contracted
these suppliers provided inadequate information; and managers in these factories underpaid
employees by compensating them half of the minimum wage. Kohl Gill’s vision was to provide a
solution to these problems. Working as a paralegal in his fellowship years in the slums of Delhi,
Gill realized that promoting a heightened level of transparency was the best approach to fighting
corruption and improving the working conditions. The workers in Bangalore garment factories
were mistreated, but could not raise their voice or unionize because they could lose their jobs.
Additionally, they perceived that all factories had similar working conditions, there was no need
to look for a new employer.
The main issue was communication, and Kohl Gill generated an idea to help with that. He
envisioned a communication system that would enable the workers to share the working conditions
of their workplaces with the outside world. By 2009, 529 million Indians had access to wireless
phones that they could use to gather data and transmit to the necessary parties. As much as this
a...

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Anonymous
Tutor went the extra mile to help me with this essay. Citations were a bit shaky but I appreciated how well he handled APA styles and how ok he was to change them even though I didnt specify. Got a B+ which is believable and acceptable.

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