Why teaching your employees to say “No” is good business

Working conditions in the textile industry are often shrouded in darkness, hidden behind the allure of affordable products. Saying no is for many not an option, whether that is to overwork or underpay.

Although the general trend points towards better conditions, behind the curtains, the textile industry’s global reach still conceals challenging working conditions endured by millions. While shocking stories occasionally emerge from distant factories, similar problems persist closer to home. Even in the UK, workers face unfair treatment.

The underlying philosophy (unsurprisingly) is that the cheaper the product, the better. If you can pressure a worker to take unpaid overtime, not go to the bathroom, suppress unions and prevent collective bargaining – then you have a cheaper product to sell. No doubt about it.

It’s about the workers

For us it has always been about the workers. Even before we got certifications and third-party audits scrutinising how we treat our employees, this was our main focus. It was not something that we bragged about, shouted or pushed out in press releases. For us, it was – and is – about decency. We own our factory in Vietnam. Our workforce is not just a number in an excel sheet, they are part of our team.

We care deeply about the mental and physical well-being of our staff, and we know that sewing is a tough job. One of the initiatives that we have launched is physical exercise for all. Sitting down and sewing the whole day is hard and can lead to pain in the body. Therefore, several times per day, we stretch and work out together the whole factory. The time we spend on this compare to having a full-time employee only to do exercise. That would make for one really fit employee, but we have decided to spread it out so everyone gets a bit of exercise every day instead.

We have also engaged in a training programme where we are teaching our staff to say no to their bosses. If it sounds like a way to run an inefficient production machine, you are looking at it from the wrong angle. We want to make sure that our staff feel confident saying no and that they feel comfortable and safe when taking care of themselves. Even in a workplace that is far from blocked emergency exits, timed bathroom breaks and corporal punishments (the reality of many textile workers in the industry), we want to make sure that we are not creating an unhealthy work culture.

For us, it is not about the specific initiatives. Many other things could and can make sense to implement, but it is about the mindset by which we run our business. That mindset is that our employees is our colleagues and people worthy of the best life we can support for them.

Happy workers make better products

It turns out that when people are engaged, they produce exceptional products. They have the power to spot and correct mistakes, free from constant pressure. They have the freedom to come up with ideas for how we can improve production and make better products (instead of thinking of when they can go to the bathroom).

For us, this is paramount. The clothes, we are making has to perform under wild conditions. When hanging 100 meters above the ground in foul weather maintaining a windmill, your gear just has to work. Simple as that.

A Brighter Future is on the Way

But even if you are not making – og looking for – high performance workwear, the quality of life of the people making the products must be high. While EU legislation is pushing in the direction of social responsibility, we believe we need to move faster. We’re dedicated to improving the lives of our employees, but we recognize that the vast majority of textile workers worldwide face a different, much tougher, reality every workday. Both brands, consumers and business partners have the power to influence change in the textile industry.

What You Can Do

Although poor working conditions are a systemic problem, there are actions that can be done by the individual person, by you and me. Even asking about it will help make a difference. Here are some simple yet impactful questions you can ask:

  • Do you own your own factories?
  • What do you do to make your employees feel appreciated?
  • Can you provide details about your supply chain transparency?
  • What certifications or audits do you undergo to verify ethical practices?
  • How do you support worker training and skill development?

We don’t get these questions enough. We deeply care about our workers and about how we drive a business that is supporting better, happier and more meaningful lives for the people we hire. We hope to get more of these questions in the future.

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