A month on from the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Nukleus CEO CW Tan speaks about working conditions in the Nukleus partner factory in China.
Cotton Story (CS) Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment-making factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the death of over one thousand workers, many Nukleus customers would like to know more about how Nukleus innerwear is made...
CW Tan (CWT) First, let me extend my sincere condolences to all those tragically affected by the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It is horrific that in 2013 garments are still being made in conditions which endanger workers' lives.
However, there is pressure from buyers to keep costs down. The price of garments is falling in the US and European markets in the wake of the economic crisis. Some brands feel that to survive they put pressure on the supply chain (factories) to compromise on things they don't think are critical, like wages and working conditions. The owners know what's going on but take no action.
CS Many people think of factories in China as being sweatshops. What is the Nukleus experience?
CWT China has a very large manufacturing base, from the lowest to the highest standards. Big brands source a lot from China, so the supply chain is there. We are very selective about the companies we deal with.
CS How did you find your Chinese manufacturer?
CWT They have worked with us for a very long time. They supply the US and Europe and have a social and health element of accountability to international standards. We visit them at least once a year, and a partner visits them every month. Their standards follow ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions on minimum wages, hygiene, freedom to form unions. They also adhere to occupational health and safety management systems to ensure safe working conditions. And we try to educate them and share information, tell them how important these issues are.
CS Doesn’t this conflict with profitability? Business is, after all, about the bottom line...
CWT Incidents like Rana Plaza have heightened consumer awareness. We must be forward thinking, and cannot be just short term. It’s part and parcel of our brand values. There’s no question at all. We’re not going to Bangladesh even if it is 15-20% cheaper. Someone will pay for that - people, the environment - someone will pay.
CS You mentioned international regulations. What about enforcement issues?
CWT I would like to see stricter enforcement. It can be costly for buyers to audit. Even brands like Levi’s face these issues, and we are a small brand. But the factory we work with is almost a partner, a virtual factory. They do 80% of our production and this imposes a lot of discipline on them. We can’t be 100% satisfied, but we’ve been working with them for over ten years. There’s room for improvement, and if I had my own way and resources permitted, I’d send in my own auditors.
CS How does having a long-term relationship with the factory affect production?
CWT I know the factory manager, we communicate in Chinese, and send each other family greetings at Chinese New Year. We know the designers and the boss. They moved to a new factory last year and improved factory conditions a lot. They are definitely above average. They used to work a 7 day week, now it’s 6.
CS What is your message to Nukleus customers about the way the garments are produced?
CWT Nukleus has a strong emphasis on eco and conscience. It’s all inter-related and this issue is relevant and more prominent now. We can’t claim we’re perfect, but we’re consciously aware and consciously working on all of this, Sustainability is a journey, with many stops on the supply chain road...from the dyeing factory, to the elastic producers, to the accessory makers. They’re all qualified in environmental aspects and also pay attention to social aspects. Increasingly global consumers demand more and this is definitely an area we want to further improve. We’re not perfect, but we’re not bad, so we’re reasonably happy.