For years now, the clothing industry in Asia has had a bad reputation for unsatisfactory working environment and low salaries. At Segers’ factory just outside Lahore in Pakistan, a lot of time and effort has been invested for many years in proving this reputation wrong and creating a humane working environment that can be compared to those found in the west. Employees receive a good salary, have healthcare and paid education for their children.
Segers has produced textiles in a facility just outside Lahore in Pakistan for several years now. The facility has space for 500 employees and supplements Segers’ former production units in Estonia and the Ukraine.
How do customers feel about the clothes they buy being produced in Pakistan?
"Thanks to reports in the media and documentaries in recent years, particularly from Bangladesh, Pakistan now also has an unfavourable reputation. That’s how the news works. We see one set of pictures and they stay with us and colour everything else we see. Of course, there are bad workplaces in both countries, but there are also very many textile factories that take responsibility and work hard to provide employees with a sustainable working life.
What is Segers’ strategy for the unit in Pakistan?
In summary, we do our best to implement our values for a humane and safe workplace at the same time as paying full respect to the Pakistani culture and their way of life. This requires a balancing act, and some decisions are tougher than others.
Who works in the factories?
The textile industry in Pakistan is dominated by women. Generally speaking, they are quite young and usually work in the textile industry from the age of 18 to 21. At the age of 21, they tend to leave working life as tradition dictates that women of a certain age should stay at home and take care of the children. At Segers, we always try to explain to the women that they are welcome back to work once the children have grown up and are so old they can look after themselves. But this is also a tough choice for many of the women. It’s quite common in some families for the husband and relatives to believe that women should not work but stay home, with full responsibility for the household, and the consequences can be dire if a woman dares to think differently. The question is; how much pressure should we as a western company apply in trying to change the Pakistani culture? Where can we provide support?
How is this matter discussed?
In my mind, it would be easier for women to discuss this at home if she could say that almost all her female colleagues go back to work once the children are older. Together they are stronger. At our factory, for example, 96% come back to work after spending some years at home with their families. As far as I know, this is the highest ratio in Pakistan.
What other measures do you take in Pakistan?
We have an onsite HR Manager, Adil Aamir, who we work with. He is worth his weight in gold and is full of ideas and has made numerable changes to the workplace. One of these is a vaccination programme, where we vaccinate all our employees against typhus and hepatitis A and B. All our employees and their families are entitled to healthcare via PESSI (Punjab employees social security institution). We also make contributions to the education of our employees’ children via the Workers Welfare Board, and continue to make these payments even when a member of staff decides to leave. Our employees also receive pensions and life insurance. However, our biggest problem is actually illiteracy. When we introduced and offered these benefits to our employees, we fully expected them to be delighted. However, it turned out that many of them were sceptical about all kinds of paperwork and documents, because they cannot read. Quite a few of our employees also have a completely different approach to the concept of time. In their minds, if they don’t feel unwell at that point in time then they have no need for insurance. And the idea of retiring in the future is something very distant. They are confident that their children will look after them in the future.
How do you solve this conflict?
Adil works very hard to encourage all our employees to sign the documents and to have access to these benefits. We have also considered contacting relatives who can read to help our employees and encourage them to accept the benefits offered. It’s actually very similar to the situation with encouraging women to come back to work after having children. The more who try and find out it works, the more will follow.