The employee trip of a lifetime: from Belgium to Bangladesh
SustainabilityStanley/Stella has recently introduced an initiative offering every employee the chance to go to Bangladesh to experience the culture and meet with the key partners of the company’s success. We talk to two employees, Veronika and Renaud, who have been on separate Dhaka trips this year. Here they tell us of their impressions.
‘It was amazing. I’m so happy to have gone’. So summarizes Renaud his recent trip to Bangladesh. A Customer Service Representative at Stanley/Stella, Renaud Bouhon is one of 10 employees who have so far been given the opportunity to travel to this little-known country to learn more about the company’s activities there.
Stanley/Stella’s HQ team meeting their Bangladeshi colleagues in our office in Dhaka.
A radical initiative introduced by Stanley/Stella’s CEO, Jean Chabert, the company aims to send all its employees to Dhaka at least once, in order for them to see first-hand how Stanley/Stella’s garments are made and to discover more about the local context.
Explains Jean, ‘Sustainability is built into every level of decision making at Stanley/Stella, which is why it needs to be tangible and accessible to all our staff, not just the ones working in the sustainability department. We want our teams to see everything we do, from the field to the finished garment. By organizing a 3-day stay for everyone in the company, we offer so much more than just a trip. Our staff can see for themselves how we operate over there, how the factories work, who the factory workers are and what conditions they live and work in.’
Veronika Szalai, Sustainability Officer, was part of the first group to kick-start the initiative. Leaving in June, she went with four colleagues, all from different departments. ‘We had a great mix of people and I really appreciated being able to get to know the others better, as well as discovering a country I had never been to before.’Adds Renaud, who went on a trip in September, ‘I have to say, after the Rana Plaza tragedy, I had my doubts about how things are done over there. But now, I see how factories can work differently. Today, I’m more confident about speaking about our quality claims. I feel like I know the chain and can explain the steps better. After all, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Sometimes people can be a bit cynical about what really goes on, but I’ve experienced first-hand what the conditions are like. People looked relaxed and happy and at 5pm everyone went home. I saw the child-care, saw the bus service. I’ve had positive reactions from customers since I got back – they think the initiative is great. I’m proud to work here.’
Veronika continues ‘We know that everything isn’t perfect in Bangladesh, but it’s important for Stanley/Stella to be there and support its partner factories to offer sustainable livelihoods for the local population. And gradually, bigger companies are starting to understand that this is the way forward. Every positive step in the right direction helps’.
The trip is jam-packed with interesting stops including a one-day visit of Dird factory, an educational visit to a spinning factory, the Cotton Field & Research Centre, which does research on sustainability, and the Bangladesh Liaison Office. For a dose of local culture, the groups also take in the impressive National Museum and the stunning Rose Garden Palace in Old Dhaka.
Stanley/Stella’s team visiting the Cotton Field & Research Centre in Dhaka, in September.
‘We left on a Sunday night and were back in Brussels by Thursday. In that time we managed to do so much, mostly because we were so well guided and looked after by Nehal. It was incredible’, enthuses Veronika.
Sharif Nehal Rahman is Stanley/Stella’s Sustainability Officer in the Bangladesh Liaison Office (BLO) and is the person in charge of the Brussels office visits. Says Veronika ‘He was amazing at answering all our questions and filling us in on the culture, education, family, work…but the conversation went both ways. Nehal is super curious, so he asked us lots of questions about our way of life in Europe too.’ Getting to know the other BLO staff members better and meeting the people on the ground was one of the highlights of the trip. ‘We understand each other so much better now. It’s not always easy when you’re just communicating by email.’
The visit to Dird Factory, which handles 45% of Stanley/Stella’s total production and employs 9,800 people, was the focal point of the trip. Explains Renaud, ‘The staff were so nice and welcoming, so proud to show us their factory. The workers were really curious to see us, a bit nervous and excited too - they haven’t really met many foreigners before. What surprised me the most though was the amount of quality controls garments go through. Everything is checked about 4 or 5 times – there are definitely more steps involved than I thought’.
Sayed and Shamsul, our quality controllers explaining each step of the t-shirt making process in the Dird Factory.
At the factory, Veronika and Renaud were able to visit the kindergarten available to all workers with small children and to see the factory-run bus services that bring the workers to and from their towns. ‘We also saw some social housing’ explains Veronika ‘units that are available to families and single people working at the factory’.
‘I really expected to see poverty and dirt. What I didn’t expect to see was that everyone was so happy. Everyone was so welcoming – people have so little over there, yet are so generous. It really struck me, we have so much here, yet have a hard time being as happy.’
All in all, both Veronika and Renaud agree that it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. ‘It was intense’ says Renaud ‘in a really good way. We not only saw Bangladesh, we got to feel the way of life too’.