Improving Worker Lives
Ensuring that the thousands of people worldwide who make our products have fair and safe workplaces is part of our commitment to running a responsible business. We believe it makes for a better workforce and better business—besides the fact it’s simply the right thing to do.




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As part of Timberland’s Sustainable Living Environment (SLE) program, our supplier sustainability team (SST) spends time with factory workers and managers to understand if they are able to meet basic needs and if factory employment is helping to improve their lives. Understanding the causes of worker stress is critical for assessing worker needs and helping our suppliers be more productive and profitable.

Studies show that sixty percent of lost workdays each year can be attributed to stress. Occupational stress has causes beyond working conditions, as conflicts between the demands of workplace and home life are increasingly common—which we discovered when interviewing workers at Timberland’s contract factories.

Prioritizing Early Childhood Care and Education

As part of its ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, India has an integrated child-development program where zero-to-three-year-olds attend an early childhood center. Any manufacturing or construction site with a certain number of female workers of reproductive age is required by law to provide an onsite crèche (child care facility). Unfortunately, factories often don’t dedicate appropriate resources, leaving working parents with lackluster options for their young children’s care.

At one of Timberland’s apparel suppliers in Chennai, India—Celebrity Fashions Ltd.—Timberland’s Supplier Sustainability Specialist Rita Kodkani found that crèches exist, but are not utilized by workers. Factory workers perceived the crèches as unsafe, unclean, under-staffed and/or having unskilled staff. As Kodkani spoke further with local community members, it was clear that a high quality early child care development center was also lacking within the larger community. Together with Celebrity workers and management, and in consultation with the community at large, a community-based center was recommended for the following reasons:

  • Factory crèches are often lacking in quality in terms of trained personnel, educational activities as well as space for the children to play and rest. As a result, only 6% of workers were utilizing in factory-based crèches for their children.
  • Factory-based crèches admit only children three-months-old to three-years-old. However, children of workers (and parents within the community) older than three need both early childhood education and care—and children older than six need after-school care.
  • Government sponsored child-care centers (Anganwadis) and other neighborhood facilities are open only from 9am until noon or 6pm, while factory workers need child support from 8am to 8pm.

Celebrity Fashions management was eager to see high-quality care for their workers’ children, according to Kodkani. “While Celebrity management has crèches in all of their factories to meet the legal requirement, they strongly believe that the more workers’ well-being is addressed, better opportunity exists for improved quality and productivity,” she says. “The need for a quality crèche and day care in Chennai increased due to an increasing number of women workers at the factory over time, as well as an increasing trend in married women workers.”

Collaboration to Forge Solutions

With multiple sites and limited resources, increasing crèche budgets at each Celebrity Fashions factory didn’t seem realistic, but the factory expressed interest in finding a solution. Timberland contacted Verité—an international non-profit that Timberland has partnered with on worker improvement projects for over 10 years. In turn, Verité engaged local NGOs ASK India and Samvada to seek a solution. Together with Celebrity workers and management, and in consultation with the community at large, a community-based center was recommended.

As a result, Celebrity management, Samvada and ASK India committed to opening a community-based early childhood care and education (ECCE) center to provide high quality child care focusing on emotional and physical health, social and cognitive development for children of workers. Timberland provided initial funding, and the fully equipped and fully operational Community Crèche opened on December 27, 2012.

The Center is available to both factory employees as well as parents within the community, and care is offered to workers’ children at subsidized rates. The factory hired professionally trained ECCE staff with the help of Samvada, who ensured childcare, preschool education and after-school care would meet both the legal requirements and community and factory workers’ needs.

Delivering Value for Factories and Communities

Built into the strategy for the Center, Samvada aims to enhance the productivity of factory workers by assuring quality child care while they’re at work. Samvada helped form a Mothers’ Committee Group to involve factory workers to supervise and monitor the ECCE center. There has been a positive reaction from workers and the community upon the Center’s opening:

Mother Lakshi – “I learnt from the welfare officer that the teachers are trained to not just take care of the children but to also teach them. I would have to spend so much money to send my child to kindergarten. Now my child can study and I can work peacefully.”

Tamil Selvi NGO (local self-help group) – “Within the community this is the first of its kind. We are very happy with the fee structure—it’s affordable for the parents. I wish lot of success and will tell other community parents also to utilize this facility. Thank you Celebrity and Timberland.”

Factory management has also been pleased with the outcome. As Mr. Charath Narasimhan, CEO of Celebrity Fashions, recounted at the inauguration:

“My biggest satisfaction is that we have chosen education of children, which is the future of our country. Many of your children, Narayanapuram branch employees’ children, the community member’s children can be placed here. This should be model—and we have to open many more like this, and that should be our aim.”

By opening the crèche to the community at-large and ensuring a broad scope of time and age for children eligible to attend, the Center is now being used by a wider group of workers and the community. The revenue generated from increased use is enough to offset the majority of operating expenses, leaving Celebrity with less resource commitment than what their onsite factory crèches would collectively cost. In demonstrating success with this first Center, Celebrity and the local NGOs are hopeful that more factories will follow suite and invest in the sustainable livelihood of their workers and communities.

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Financial security is an essential part of anyone’s livelihood. Yet 2.5 billion adults around the world don’t use formal financial services to save or borrow money. Empowering the working poor with proper knowledge and skill—and connecting them to financial products and services—can help them manage money more effectively, invest in economic opportunities, and reduce risks related to illness or loss of employment.

Timberland’s Sustainable Living Environment (SLE) program was developed to help ensure that the workers who make Timberland® products are able to meet their basic needs and have opportunities to better their lives. That’s why Timberland has been actively looking for ways to bring financial literacy and awareness to workers where need exists. Our Supplier Sustainability Team assesses potential need for all of our factory partners around the world, regardless of the supplier’s size.

Back in 2003, we partnered with CARE International to launch a microfinance program with one of our largest apparel suppliers, The YoungOne Corporation—a garment manufacturer that operates 14 factories in Bangladesh. With initial funding from Timberland, CARE and a local organization called MAMATA embarked on a project to improve the lives of 24,000 YoungOne garment workers in the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ). In response to complaints of robbery on paydays, the program provided savings booths inside the factory, where employees could make deposits and withdrawals in the safety of the workplace. In addition, the program allowed workers access to small loans for health care, education, or income—generating activities to improve living conditions for themselves and their families.

Encouraged by the CEPZ program, Businesses for Social Responsibility (BSR) announced in November 2012 that it will create a HERfinance initiative that will help empower women financially around the globe. This program will build on the success of the organization’s HERproject, a health-awareness program that was launched in China in 2007, with the support of Timberland. To date, HERproject has promoted health education among more than 200,000 female workers in factories and farms in eight countries.

Following that model, the HERfinance project will provide essential training on budgeting, saving, and using formal financial services. The program will utilize a peer-educator approach that’s already achieved results for HERproject. In this model, workers—primarily women—volunteer to become peer educators to promote financial literacy among their co-workers, family members, and friends. The program is set to launch in 2013 in India, and four Timberland suppliers have already signed up to participate.

“I’ve seen the power of peer mentoring,” says Colleen Von Haden, Timberland’s senior manager for supplier sustainability and compliance. “Meeting these courageous, committed, trail-blazing women was a highlight of my career—one which inspired me to find more opportunities to empower women workers in our supply chain.”

We’re excited to participate because we’ve seen worker retention and morale increase over the years at YoungOne through our previous microfinancing program. Despite management’s initial concern to the contrary, we’ve seen that factory investment in the well-being of workers can result in increased productivity, higher quality products, and supplier resilience and reliability. According to Von Haden, “We’ve heard directly from leaders in the peer educator program that the microfinance program increases the desire to work.”

For example, Sultanan yasmin Kohinoor, a YoungOne employee from a poor family, lost her parents at a young age, but nevertheless studied hard and worked her way to the Workers’ Representation and Welfare Committee at YoungOne. She credits the CEPZ project staff for helping her develop her skills for facilitation and negotiation—and for making her a better leader. Similarly, Arifa, a field organizer from the garment workers’ community claims that, “We feel we are much more confident and are better able to plan for our futures. Our decision-making abilities have improved because we now have a better understanding of savings, credit, profit, and risk.”

Von Haden notes that Timberland partners with a number of organizations such as CARE, Verite, BSR, and Planet Water Foundation to address worker needs related to their physical and psychological well-being—including stress management and financial security. She explains that such programs wouldn’t be possible on the same scale without these organizations doing the groundwork with local NGOs or local service providers. “BSR’s involvement will broaden the reach of the microfinancing program and allow us to do ten times more than Timberland could do alone,” she explains.

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If you were to ask an American business owner what single thing was most essential to his or her workforce’s quality of life, the answer might be the electricity to power their equipment or cars for their employees’ commute. But in many rural, developing countries, the answer is often much more basic: clean drinking water.

That’s what Timberland’s Supplier Sustainability Team (SST) discovered during an assessment of factories in and around Hanoi, Vietnam. Because Timberland is committed to going beyond compliance when it comes to engagement with factories and workers who produce our products, our analysis includes determining whether workers have a sustainable living environment (SLE). “We have conversations formally and informally with workers to understand what aspects of basic living needs they might be struggling with,” says Colleen Von Haden, Timberland’s senior manager for supplier sustainability and compliance.

According to reports from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, every year 3.6 million people die of water-related diseases—and 55% of those who don’t have improved drinking water live in Asia. Access to clean drinking water is one of the basic needs we work to ensure all workers in our supply chain have. Assessing whether or not workers’ basic needs are met is a routine part of our SLE assessments. Although clean drinking water emerged as the #1 concern among workers at the Stella Group’s Golden Star factories in Hai Phong City, Vietnam (a port city located about 60 miles east of Hanoi), the water within the factory itself was clean. “That’s when we started investigating the water source in the community,” says Von Haden. The community is far from highways and the government-supplied water source at the factory. Where they live, workers and community members rely on groundwater and rainwater for drinking and domestic use, with little (if any) filtration.

When Timberland learns that access to clean drinking water is an issue in workers’ communities, we rely on our partnership with Planet Water Foundation to help meet the need. Planet Water Foundation is a U.S.-based, nonprofit organization that strives to bring clean water to the world’s most disadvantaged communities through the installation of water filtration systems and education on how to use them. (Timberland had previously partnered with Planet Water Foundation and the Farida Group to install a drinking water tower in Ambur, India in 2011).

For the installation of clean drinking water towers in Vietnam, Timberland’s Supplier Sustainability Regional Manager, Songpon Pengchamsri and team member Jasmine Tri Tru Minh worked with Planet Water Foundation, the factory and the local community to decide the best location for two towers. The Foundation’s strategic priority is to bring clean drinking water to children, and therefore consulted local schools near to the factories to find best proximity to the majority of the workers of the Golden Star factories. The final selections were Chau Tien Kindergarten and Quynh My Kindergarten, which would give access to the highest number of community members.

The towers were constructed on the grounds of the local schools on July 24 and 25, 2012. “By partnering with a school, Planet Water Foundation brings entertaining educational material about the importance of clean drinking water – materials designed especially for school-age children to help them learn proper hygiene as well” Von Haden explains.

Pengchamsri expounds further, “Not only will the children benefit from drinking clean water and understanding hygiene, but they’ll also bring back that knowledge to their families.”

One advantage of the Planet Water filtration system is that the system doesn’t require any consumables. The filters, only require nominal daily maintenance checks by school staff, and can last seven to ten years. When needed, the filters can be replaced for a modest cost. In addition, Planet Water guarantees each installation and returns to the project site every three months for five years after the installation to ensure that the system is operating correctly.

“From the day Clean Water Project finished, not only pupils, teachers, parents—but also all citizens who living near the school—get a huge advantage,” explains Vu Thi Nga, Trade Union Chairman of both Chau Tien and Quynh My Kindergarten. “Not only are there health benefits, now they’re saving costs because they can drink clean water directly from the Filter Water Equipment”.

While the primary benefit of the water towers is better health through clean drinking water, Von Haden points out that there is a business case for brands and factories to provide a sustainable living environment for workers, as well as a humanitarian one. After all, when employees miss work because they’re ill—or have to stay home to care for sick family members—productivity suffers.

Factory manager Doan Anh Tuan sums it up by saying, “This project has affected our everyday lives—not just at the factory but into our communities and schools. We’ll be feeling its impact for generations.”

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