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Global Social Development

Giving Workers a Voice through Food

Giving Workers a Voice through Food

Food influences our daily lives, from our physical and mental well-being to our relationships with others. In the communities where Nordstrom products are manufactured, food from factory canteens also has an important business impact.

Migrant laborers typically travel long distances to industrial centers for work, and factory canteens are often their main source for food. In many cases, the food at a factory's canteen is prepared according to local tastes. This means workers often encounter very different ingredients and spices from those they eat at home. These differences can have a profound impact on the workers' morale and productivity while they're on the factory floor, and can even lead to worker turnover.

Improving communication
Through Canteen Project, a partnership with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Nordstrom is helping workers at three factories in China's Guangdong Province gain a stronger voice when it comes to their meals. Canteen Project's goal is to ensure that workers are better educated about healthy, nutritious options and are involved in the selection of food-service providers, pricing and menu offerings.

Nordstrom and BSR are using the results of a BSR-conducted needs assessment to learn more about what influences workers' satisfaction with canteens. We are using our findings to help address those needs while expanding worker participation in the day-to-day management of the factory.

The Canteen Project focuses on empowering workers to be a part of a more open communication model and is introducing a number of tools that will allow workers to share their concerns more easily with their managers. It is a committee system in which workers can present their interests as part of a large, diverse workforce, and this enables a quick management response. The project also uses a peer education model in which workers are trained as educators to share knowledge about the Canteen Project and other issues with their coworkers.

Tackling challenges together
While the initial focus is on ensuring the canteen meets the needs of workers, these tools can also enable factory management to tackle a variety of similar challenges. They create more direct lines to decision makers and can be useful in identifying simple fixes that make the factory work floor more comfortable and productive, like better lighting, ventilation and line set-up. Additionally, tools like the peer education model can be used to spread important knowledge efficiently, such as disease prevention basics and information about local health resources.

"We know that many worker complaints relate in some way to the factory's canteen," said Anthony Curtis, social responsibility program manager for Nordstrom Product Group, which oversees Nordstrom private label production. "With Canteen Project, we hope to give workers what they need to be healthy, happy, and productive, while highlighting the impact food can have on operations for management. We are pleased to be facilitating better communication about needs in a structured, sustainable way."

Canteen Project was launched in 2010 and will continue throughout 2011.

Giving Workers a Voice through Food

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