Among the roughly 300 factories with which Timberland does business, there’s one that stands apart: the Recreational Footwear Company (RFC) in the Dominican Republic. Employing approximately 2,200, employees—or 37% of Timberland’s global workforce—the RFC is the only factory in our supply chain that is wholly owned and operated by Timberland.
That’s important because having been part of the Timberland family for 30 years, the RFC has a strong connection to our heritage and our commitment to putting our values into action. And because we have direct control over the RFC’s operations, we see firsthand the opportunities and challenges connected with producing our products. And we make sure we do it in a cost-effective, quality-driven, and environmentally responsible way.
While strategy for producing products in a responsible manner is developed in our corporate office, implementation of that strategy happens on the factory floor. More often than not, our own factory acts as a laboratory for new initiatives, whereby we can share learnings in our manufacturing base to reduce our impacts there as well. For example, over the past six years we retrofitted lighting at the plant, driving down energy consumption and costs, saving $155,697 since 2006. We also erected a wind tower in 2005, which generates clean energy for the facility and serves as inspiration for clean energy options that can power our entire plant one day. We also recycle 65% of the water used by the facility, much of which goes to a treatment plant and used for irrigating the fields surrounding a local park.
Another area where we put our values into action at the RFC is engaging and empowering employees. We believe the people who best understand the issues and troubles faced by factory workers are the workers themselves. That’s why Timberland is committed to engaging workers in all of the assessment and remediation work that we do. This empowers managers and employees to drive solutions to problems that individual factories might face.
For example, the rubber outsole on the black leather Timberland PRO® boots was becoming unglued during the production process, due to a necessary oil-removing wash applied to the leather. Black leather must go through a rigorous leather treatment process, which ensures that the leather is pliable and able to be shaped. Black leather has more oil than other leathers, and therefore workers apply a washing fluid on the boot to remove the excess oil.
Saul Lora, an RFC employee, had an idea for solving the problem. He suggested that the washing fluid be applied higher up on the boot—thereby still removing the oil but potentially eliminating the problem with the adhesive. He brought his idea to Julio Alberto Cesar, his manager at RFC. Julio himself had started out at the plant as an operator, and then, through Timberland’s educational programs and training available at the factory, rose to the position of quality auditor, then engineer, and in 2005 became plant manager.
It is customary for supervisors at the RFC like Julio to meet with their employees every morning, before the shift starts, to discuss production issues and any other social or environmental challenges or opportunities. When Saul presented his idea to Julio at one of these meetings, Julio thought the idea was worth a try.
The result? The new method for applying the washing fluid made adhesion easier and, more importantly, permanent. This not only improved the product, but efficiency as well—workers no longer had to stop what they were doing to re-glue the soles.
“I feel that management listens to suggestions from employees, so it gives me confidence to talk about other issues and to bring up future problems I see with production or otherwise,” Saul says of the experience.
Julio agrees. “It has been really helpful to work on the communication lines with employees. I try to make them understand that they can trust me and that they can make suggestions that will be heard.”
We believe that it is by empowering employees like Saul and Julio that the facility is able to maintain low employee turnover and a high percentage of Dominican nationals in senior management positions. We’re proud that, in the Dominican Republic, the RFC is considered a leader not only for its quality products and environmentally responsible operations, but also for its high level of employee satisfaction.
As Saul puts it, “I like the camaraderie here at RFC. It really feels like a family.”