No organization is an island — can we build an integrated and open labor data ecosystem?

An edited version of this blog was first published on the Humanity United website on the 13th of September, 2021

This week WikiRate released a report commissioned by Humanity United that scopes out the opportunities and challenges involved in building an open and integrated data ecosystem for labor rights in supply chains. This is a post written by Aileen Robinson, program lead for Value Chain Transparency at WikiRate.

On the 15th of September, the WikiRate team hosted a webinar to present the report and demystify some of the strategies and tools that can be applied to open up data. Watch the recording here.

Covid-19 has shone a light on the vulnerabilities of global supply chains and hit supply chain workers particularly hard leaving them exposed to job losses without severance pay, unsafe working conditions and unpaid or reduced wages.

Both prior to and during the pandemic, the work of labor rights organizations and advocates has been indispensable in bringing these issues to light. But to what extent are these organizations collaborating and sharing their insights with one another?

As an open data and research platform, WikiRate has been working on enabling data sharing between organizations for some time and has brought several labor rights datasets into the public sphere. Our work has centered on bringing data into the open, but we have remarked over the years on how few organizations are sharing their data with each other.

This can lead to duplicated work where two or more organizations are asking the same questions of companies, workers or supply chain facilities. When data is held in silos, it can also make it difficult for organizations to get access to the data they need to achieve and prove their impact.

The Open Knowledge Foundation describes this effect as creating a ‘Tower of Babel’: “lots of datasets but little or no ability to combine them together into the larger system where the real value lies”.[1]

Moreover, the aim of labor rights organizations is to improve the lives of workers. Without an integrated system for sharing data, we waste precious resources repeating the same data collection exercises and remain in the dark about information other organizations have gathered that could make our work more impactful.

With this in mind, Humanity United commissioned WikiRate to undertake a research project to assess the current landscape of data sharing amongst organizations and give recommendations for how an open and integrated labor data ecosystem could be realized.

High level findings

● Of those organizations who do make data public, only 53% do so under explicit licensing which is required to allow others to re-use, modify and share the data

● Nearly one third of organizations do not have data sharing infrastructure (such as an API)

● Civil society organizations in particular are being hampered from sharing data with others through a lack of technical infrastructure and capacity

● Data sharing is being held back by poor data management practices including proper labelling and documentation of datasets

The project report gives readers an introduction to open data, addresses the question of how open labor data can really be and includes a section on fostering trust through good governance, inclusive approaches and robust data protection strategies.

Through this project we also compiled a list of seven archetype organizations in the space which were drawn from interviews and surveys with twenty-six labor rights organizations. These are used in the report to guide organizations through the key challenges and opportunities which may affect their work.

What’s next?

In the report, we compile a list of recommendations to begin the process of building an open and integrated data ecosystem. These include several more long-term goals such as launching a pilot for data sharing, strengthening the technical capacity of organizations and the creation of a registry of labor rights organizations.

But there are some quick wins that can already be put into action to get started on this journey:

● Even when working with low tech tools or small budgets, organizations should use good data practices and standards that enable automated data sharing including publishing data in a spreadsheet format, adding methodology, documentation and metadata tags to datasets and attaching clear licensing to your publications.

Funders and investors in labor rights organizations should include feasibility assessments for data sharing in funding ventures as well as ring fencing resources for organizations to build technical infrastructure for sharing (such as APIs) and robust and responsible data management practices.

Once organizations are set-up for sharing, their combined potential for impact is huge. With the common goal of improving the lives of workers in supply chains around the world, we need to avoid our own tower of babel and get our data talking.

[1] The Open Data Handbook, the Open Knowledge Foundation

WikiRate is a collaborative community with a mission to spur corporations to be transparent & responsive by making their ESG data useful and available to all.