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.