When you think about what constitutes a sustainable living environment (SLE), what specifics come to mind? Certainly, food, shelter, clean water, access to quality health care, and access to education are universal human needs. Timberland works with factories to go beyond compliance in creating sustainable living environments for workers, and our Supplier Sustainability Team has made some recent discoveries about workers’ needs in China.
“As China has become more developed, wages have gone up, and the workforce is more mature,” reports Colleen Von Haden, Timberland’s senior manager for supplier sustainability and compliance. “When surveying workers about their core needs, our team has found that achieving a work/life balance and managing stress are issues that are now more prevalent than before.”
Timberland determined this information by conducting needs assessments at its factories in China. (Needs assessments occur in all regions and all factories that Timberland sources from. For more information see Sustainable Living Environments.) Between 2008 and 2010, roughly 130 factories per year were surveyed as part of our regular assessment process. “The assessments spotlighted not only stress management, but also parenting—particularly for migrant workers separated from their children—and managing relationships and marriage,” says Von Haden.
Rather than tackle these issues on a factory-by-factory basis, Timberland engaged Verité —a long-time partner—to develop a more comprehensive solution to meeting the changing needs of factory workers in China. Verité was founded in 1995 as an independent, nonprofit social auditing, training, and research organization to ensure that working conditions around the world are fair, legal and safe.
According to Lydia Long, director of programs for Verité, “The philosophy behind the project is to invest in capability-building that puts the factories in the best position to manage their own workforce issues after we’ve gone.”
Working together, Timberland and Verité designed a program that leverages Verité’s deep practical understanding of supply chain challenges from the perspective of both workers and employers. The program is a Training of Trainers [TOT] program, targeting Human Resources managers and trainers in factories. Through training workshops, managers learn how to identify challenges and opportunities faced by workers, use practical tools to engage them in resolving issues, measure results from engagements, and review workers’ needs over time.
Verité conducted TOT trainings in three separate two-day workshops, held between October and December 2011 in the Dongguan, China. In all, 34 participants attended, including human resource managers from different factories, three facilitators from Verité and two China-based members of Timberland’s supplier sustainability team. A variety of techniques – from games and role playing to writing, coaching, and discussions – encouraged participation and teamwork.
The results of the training were positive. Verité’s summary report suggests that the newly trained human resources managers will be a reliable resource for their workers, as well as Timberland’s supplier sustainability team, going forward. “Timberland was an early supporter of worker life skills programs and is distinguished among our clients for sponsoring some of our most innovative worker engagement initiatives,” Long explains.
The workshops were also heartwarming in some instances. For Long, a favorite post-training reflection came from one human resources manager who was able to persuade her own child to go to school thanks to the training she received. Because parenting skills were a focus of the workshops, the breakthrough was significant—not only for the participant, but also for workers at the factory she represented. “My experience helped me realize that the course can really help not only myself, but also workers. We internal trainers can do something for their children,” she stated. And so, the TOT model helped this manager overcome a personal parenting challenge as well as transfer such knowledge to other workers – a great example of the TOT in practice
According to Von Haden, implementing a single training session for workers isn’t sustainable because of worker turnover. “The TOT model, however, is replicable,” Von Haden concludes. “Wherever the managers work for the rest of their careers, they’ll have the skills and tools to make a true impact on the quality of factory workers’ lives.”