VISION / DUE DILIGENCE
Being an entrepreneur is not always easy. You want to keep your customers happy, your staff, the tax authorities, your suppliers ask for orders, the bank wants to see results and for a number of years now the NGO’s have also been asking for good due diligence on corporate social responsibility.
Due diligence?? It took me a while to pronounce this word without effort. But what does it actually mean? Due diligence is doing risk analysis. See what happens in your chain, ask further if things are not clear and eventually take steps to change things that do not fit your standards.
That is not so easy at all. Our chain consists of many steps, links, all of which add something to our product: it is not only the sewing workshop, but also the supplier of the raw materials, whether it is recycled clothing or new cotton, the knitter or weaver of the fabrics. , the dyeing company, the embroidery and printer, the supplier of the buttons, the zippers, the stitching thread, the packaging materials and ultimately also the transporter. And often it is not only one factory per step, because one sewing workshop can make good jackets, but you need another workshop that stitches shirts and so on. In addition, you also want to spread your risk, because if one factory is closed for the Sugar Feast, you can go to the other, which will then be closed at another time due to Chinese New Year. And at one factory you can have 100 pieces made within 2 weeks (for a higher price), while the other factory is cheaper but requires larger numbers and has a longer delivery time. For each product, therefore, different workshops are required, which also have various links behind them.
Does this jungle of suppliers relieve us of our responsibility to ensure that it runs smoothly in all steps? No, of course not. And then due diligence comes into play. You first have to map all links, make some sort of telephone tree: who is behind whom and why? Then you will assess all those links: how do they do it? What are they doing well? What can be done better? Do you need them all? And then you determine where you should start first to improve things, in other words: setting priorities. Because as much as you and the NGOs would like the whole world to look 100% okay today, that seems like an utopia for the time being. We are at the beginning of a sustainable transformation. There are so many patterns deeply embedded in our industry, there is such a huge difference in culture between us and the countries on the other side of the world, government interests are involved in low wages, people are involved who survive instead of live and make choices based on this. And so on. And then I am talking in our own chain about tens of thousands of people, for which Schijvens takes responsibility. You will understand that this is a big responsibility for a company that only has 30 people in the office. Does that mean we can’t really do anything? No, not even at all. That means that there are many opportunities as a small disruptor to try to knock down holy houses, build best practices, give suppliers different insights, inform stakeholders and take steps. Is our entire supply chain already 100% perfect? No, certainly not yet, but we work hard every day to improve. How do we do that? You can read that below.
Until the year 2000, we have always produced everything in our own workshop in Hilvarenbeek, according to Dutch laws, with a good social employment policy. Then we took the step towards outsourcing our production, first in Europe and then in Asia. We noticed that we had little control over what was happening there, so once we visited our factories we saw big differences in organization and level of sustainability. We decided in 2010 that we needed an external independent party to uncover issues we could work on. We chose the Fair Wear Foundation, a strict club with great transparency.
We also noticed that it was better to channel our production: too many factories require much more audits and we as a customer become less important for that supplier, because we give lower orderquantity because our turnover has to be divided over many factories. And less important to a factory also means that they will work less hard to improve the points you would like to see improved. So we decided to lower down our supplier base to a small number of key suppliers: who do we really need? That was the birth of our Value Chain. In 2013 they met eachother for the first time, the ‘producers of Schijvens’, in Hilvarenbeek, during our 150th anniversary. They got to know our customers, for whom they made corporate clothing every day, and they got to know each other. They also learned that they are not competitors, but that they complement each other, creating trust to share things and learn from each other. Every year we meet somewhere in the world, our Value Chain, which is educational but above all a lot of fun. And there is daily contact in the app group. And this trust is important, because you stick to each other, for better and for worse.
Because ‘for worse’ is happening last year, with the outbreak of the Covid19 virus. And how does our industry suffer as a result. Not necessarily in corporate clothing, but the fashion industry has come to a stop, which means that many orders are cancelled or postponed at the factories where employees often do not have any reserves in their bank account. A good policy on managing this disaster means that you are also on the barricades for each other in bad times. And that is a 2-way system. Because if a company here in the Netherlands eventually goes bankrupt because it has to pay all its suppliers immediately, the supplier has no benefit of this situation either, because he will never receive orders from a bankrupt customer again. That is why dialogue is so important: what do you need and what can I do? And vice versa. We have had a lot of contact with our partners in the Value Chain, also online groupmeetings with everybody together, in order to understand eachothers needs. We have received heartwarming reactions, they were almost surprised that customers are able to really care about them.
We called all our partners in the Value Chain and discussed what they need and how can Schijvens help (“thank you for caring”). You can read this in our Action Plan.
Due to her approach, Schijvens now scores 86 out of 100 points on the Fair Wear Brand Performance Check and thus falls into the Leader category. Many social matters are therefore well arranged at the Schijvens Value Chain. That has taken a lot of effort from our partners and our people, but improving people’s lives also makes you very happy, so it is all worth it. But you also sometimes come across things that have not gone well. And even then due diligence is extremely important. You have audits carried out to see what is going on in a factory: in the field of discrimination, freedom of union (also in countries where unions are even banned), security measures, child and forced labour, but also research of bookkeeping to check the payment of wages, and recently we have also started mapping the environmental risks at the dyehouses we work with: which chemicals are used? How is the water drainage arranged? Is there a smart use of energy? And in addition to all this complicated research, we at Schijvens also have to design, produce, supply and recycle company clothing.
And then you find something: a 14-year-old boy worked on our production last year. It was a new Value Chain partner audited by BSCI Amfori, a good report. Nevertheless, Schijvens also wanted to have the factory audited for its own FWF standards, after all it was a new partner, so we have to know for sure. The factory had its own workforce in order, wages were paid neatly, factory was safe. Only because the factory was growing so much, they had built an extension, in which they employed temporary workers hired from a contractor. And when our Schijvens’ employees visited the factory together with the audit team, they saw that things were not in order. Production was immediately stopped. The same day, a construction team started to improve health & safety issues: fire extinguishers were hung, emergency exits were installed. And of course the 14-year-old boy was fired immediately. He turned out to be the breadwinner of his family. Is dismissal the best way? Yes. But with a safety net behind it. Umer (because that is his name) is immediately enrolled in school, and also gets training in the factory to educate him to a good textile worker. He is paid his salary monthly so that he does not necessarily have to work. In addition, a training has been planned for the factory, where they will receive explanations about hiring temporary workers. That is a difficult theme, in some countries or provinces it is prohibited by law to work with these employment agencies, but as an entrepreneur I fully understand that you need extra hands when dealing with peaks, which we also have in the Netherlands. . Only then is it extremely important that you know which employment agency you are hiring. Does this agency have its administration in order? Are all personal data of the employees known. Are they at least 15 years old? And at 15 to 18 years: are these employees deployed according to the rules that apply to underaged employees (as is also the case in the Netherlands). Are employees paid enough and are social security contributions also paid? For many countries and factories it is not at all self-evident to check all this. That is why training is important and awareness of why you want to deal with ‘your’ employees in this way.
And there is also a responsibility for the consumer (in our case our B-to-B customers). By choosing products from companies that do good due diligence and take their chain responsibility, you contribute to improving the world. Because by your contribution, by buying something, your supplier can use part of the turnover to do those audits, give the training, pay fire extinguishers, pay a higher price for better chemicals, achieve a living wage, set up a recycling process and continue to innovate. Everyone has their responsibility, including you. And also Umer, who hopefully continues his school and does not fall back into his old pattern and disappears off the radar.
But how can you be sure that you as a consumer make the right choice? Everyone shouts everything, but what is true? Do I get the correct information? Maybe the brand with the largest advertising budget (who could also have invested in living wages….) gets the most attention? How do I see through that? That is actually your own due diligence. And you can rely on independent parties, so-called NGOs such as CNV, FNV, Unicef, Fair Wear Foundation, Clean Clothes Campaign, Solidaridad, Four Pawns and so on. Fortunately, most of these NGOs are united, together with the textile industry (or at least the part that is finds due diligence and cooperation important), with the trade associations and with the Dutch government in the Dutch Covenant for the Sustainability of Clothing and Textiles. Together we work on due diligence and improving our chain. For some this is not going fast enough, but as a member of the steering committee I see how much heart and soul everyone is committed to give to the people on the other side of the world, for a better environment, for better animal welfare. We are not there yet, but we have taken the right path. And if we continue to believe in it and continue to work on it, with all the hurdles involved, then there is a world to be won!
Personally I am very very grateful for all respons and media-attention we as a company have received for our sustainable developments. Even the Secretary of State visited our company together with our King, which has given us a huge amount of energy to continue on our mission.
Schijvens Corporate Fashion Hilvarenbeek
23 May 2021