As anyone who has ever experienced a corporate merger knows, there’s much more involved than simply adding up the two balance sheets. How the corporate cultures mesh is also a consideration—especially for a company like Timberland, where corporate social responsibility is tightly woven into every aspect of our business. Fortunately, when Timberland was acquired by the VF Corporation in 2011, we found that VF already had systems in place to ensure that people are treated fairly throughout its supply chain.
Timberland has always prioritized sourcing from fair, safe and non-discriminatory factories, and we work to ensure factories go “beyond compliance.” According to Colleen Von Haden, Timberland’s senior manager for supplier sustainability and compliance, this means the company helps create sustainable working conditions. “We strive to ensure that workers earn the wages they need to meet their needs—and that they have access to health care, clean water and education opportunities,” explains Von Haden.
At the time of the acquisition, Timberland had a Code of Conduct and team dedicated to assessing factories and working with them to remediate any issues that were found. Timberland’s assessment team also helped create opportunities that improve workers’ lives through training, facilitation and community engagement.
Much like Timberland, VF leverages its Terms of Engagement (TOE) and Global Compliance Principles, and monitors manufacturing facilities—including tanneries and raw material suppliers for knit and woven fabrics—for all of its brands. Beyond manufacturing facilities, VF monitors cutting facilities, sewing plants, screen printers, embroiderers, laundries and packaging locations.
Following the acquisition, the VF audit team reviews factory compliance with the TOE, allowing the Timberland team to focus on remediation and beyond compliance efforts. “We’ve shifted the process to a more collaborative approach,” Von Haden explains. “VF has a strong inspection team, which then allows the Timberland team to take the next step and drive change.”
Factories inspected by VF are rated according to adherence with the VF TOE. Timberland’s Supplier Sustainability Team (SST) then follows up with suppliers to provide training, development and implementation of sustainable environmental and social/labor management systems. The SST is the same team that conducted comprehensive assessments, remediation and beyond factory compliance work for the factories Timberland sources from prior to the acquisition.
The SST also focuses on capacity building. “The team’s mission is to identify gaps in the system, root causes of issues and what topics or skills need improvement,” according to Von Haden. The SST leverages internationally recognized standards such as the Global Social Compliance Programme environmental module and Social Accountability International’s Social Fingerprint® program to measure progress against best practices.
Timberland believes that community engagement is a critical part of empowering workers to make sustainable changes in their working conditions. As a result, the SST works closely with workers through meetings, focus groups, formal training and role playing. “We’ve been able to build trust, rapport and transparency with suppliers in a way we’ve never been able to before,” explains Von Haden.
In 2012, VF and Timberland’s collaborative approach monitors and remediates 300 factories around the world that Timberland sources from. If this collaboration continues to prove successful, Timberland will share its learnings with other VF brands to possibly influence our parent company’s approach in the future. Von Haden believes the model provides a fantastic opportunity for Timberland to devote time and attention to providing suppliers with consulting services at a greater bandwidth.