In China, COVID-19 infections began to spread widely in Wuhan during the week-long Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday in late January 2020 when most of the frontline workers generally return to their hometowns for two to three weeks. To respond to this unexpected and critical situation, Verité China took swift action to modify existing worker wellbeing programs in supplier factories to meet rapidly changing priorities. Verité China adopted a multi-media approach to reach and engage workers using online learning, audio recordings, and social media.
A Shift in Training
One of our first steps was to shift the focus of weekly worker training modules from life skills and occupational health- and safety-related themes to coronavirus prevention, including good hygiene practices, social distancing, the correct use of masks, the symptoms of COVID-19, preventing the spread of false information, accident and disease prevention, mental health, stress management, and home-based physical exercise.
From COVID-19 Protection to Back-to-Work Preparedness
Beginning on February 6, Verité China began posting information (texts, pictures, and videos) via WeChat, the most popular social media platform in China with more than 1 billion users, so that they would be directly accessible to workers. The information shared initially focused on measures to protect workers from the virus, such as social distancing, hand washing, and coronavirus symptoms. However, as more workers returned to work in late February and early March, Verité quickly moved to provide workers with information on workplace accident and disease prevention, personal protection equipment (PPE), and mental health. When the curve began to flatten in March, Verité began posting practical guidance on how to maintain physical health, as well as raised awareness about specific workplace situations that may arise during the pandemic that increase the risk of workplace accidents and diseases. Through these messages, Verité China sought to provide workers with credible sources of information and examples of good practices that could decrease workers’ risk of contracting the virus, prevent workplace accidents, and help them to cope with the fallout from the pandemic, both physically and mentally, all while keeping them engaged with ongoing learning activities.
A Multi-Media Approach to Education
Both workers and management spoke highly of Verité China’s online learning materials on infectious disease prevention and COVID-19, and management at one factory reported that although they had access to other forms of information on COVID-19 prevention, they found Verité’s materials very helpful, as they could be assured that the materials were based on reliable sources of information, which was especially important at a time when so much disinformation was spreading across social media platforms.
Another positive outcome of the trainings was that some workers approached management to share suggestions about possible next steps in COVID-19 training, opening an exchange of information and perspectives. For example, workers from one factory suggested that the educational materials be made available to all workers rather than only those participating in the online learning activities. In response, factory management asked Verité to assist them in producing an audio program on COVID-19 prevention (including how to properly wear masks in the factory); the program was broadcast to workers throughout the factory.
To further reinforce behaviors promoting COVID-19 prevention while empowering workers and fostering a stronger sense of community, Verité recently initiated a photo competition activity in some factories with the theme: My Pandemic Prevention Life. Workers have been encouraged to use their cell phones to take pictures of their daily lives and submit one or two to their factories to be evaluated on the criteria of how well the photo fits the theme and photo artistry, with winners receiving awards. We hope to find that the workers’ sharing of common experiences of fighting the virus will make them more aware of the importance of supporting each other during difficult times by working hand-in-hand with family members, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers in and outside of factories. Verité will report back on the results of this activity at a later date.
Adapting to an Evolving Situation
The circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic in China are unique given that it was the first country to face the challenges the virus presented. While the training and educational tactics Verité China took to meet suppliers’ and workers’ needs were specific to that situation at that time, we plan to use the initial approach outlined to inform our efforts with other suppliers, expanding and evolving it as suppliers adapt to the ongoing and evolving conditions of the pandemic.
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