Archive | May, 2013

Lessons from Bangladesh: Building a Brighter Future for Workers

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Hearing stories from the women working at the Fair Trade factory. They want to be able to contribute to the well being of their families, and improve their lives.

It has been one month since a Bangladeshi factory collapsed, leaving 1,127 workers dead on April 24. All of us at Senda have been following the discussion going on at a corporate, grassroots and non profit level. I hope that they serve to make sure that what happened in Bangladesh never happens again, and that workers around the World are not subject to abuse, poor working conditions, and low wages.

I really believe that another production model is possible, and that with some outside-the-box thinking, innovation, and compassion,  brands can genuinely  make progress in improving  the lives of those making their products. There is no reason why poor people in developing countries should be struggling to make ends meet and live a life with dignity, while companies make record profits. This does not have to be a ZERO SUM GAME.

I acknowledge that the problem of poor working conditions in factories is complex, and that mistakes will be made in all honest efforts aimed at changing the current reality. But I also believe that the time is right to construct a new paradigm, and create a system in which brands make quality products, producers make a good living, and consumers feel good about the impact of their purchases. With that vision in mind, last year I embarked in a 10 day trip to Pakistan to meet the workers behind our Fair Trade Soccer balls. I wanted to see first hand the conditions in which our products are made. The trip provided a lot of lessons, and inspired myself and the Senda team to continue working hard to make things better for our producers.

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Learning how our soccer ball panels are screen printed.

Because I actually lived inside the Fair Trade factory  (I stayed at a guest room on the 2nd floor), I was able to see first hand that workers making our soccer balls have access to proper breaks, to subsidized meals or a place to eat their own, that fire extinguishers are all places strategically, that emergency exits are properly labeled. There were some water faucets that were out of service and made it difficult for workers to access water, and we communicated that concern to the factory. They immediately acknowledge it, and took the necessary steps to repair them.

One of the main goals I had while in Pakistan, was to understand what it felt like to work everyday on the making of soccer balls. In order to do that, I asked people involved in the making of soccer balls to teach me about the work they do, and to allow me to participate in the making. I want use that opportunity to understand exactly how our products are made, have other people at Senda experience that, and then work with workers and the factory to find ways to make processes better

We might never become expert soccer ball stitchers, or screen printers, but by understanding better the work they do we can work along with them to make processes better, safer, and more efficient. It also makes us get closer to workers, and show them that we care, and we are willing to put ourselves in their shoes.

There is an opportunity for brands to empower consumers with knowledge about who makes their products, share their stories, and allow them to make a difference in their lives by committing to treating them with the respect that we believe everyone in this country deserves. I hope that more brands will embark in such a journey, and also that more consumers demand that from the companies they buy from.