The “Social Thing” Nobody Wants to Touch

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In early 2010, AAPN decided to makes it annual conference theme SUSTAINABILITY. "I don't know what that is", I said when it was first proposed. "Neither does anyone else", our Board of Directors replied.

We had 120 people show for that meeting, 17 of the companies who sent executives were retailers and brands. Of course we had an aggressive agenda. Despite that, we were exceptionally surprised by a 10 minute video you can see in two parts here:
Rocedes Apparel Social Responsibility, 2010, Part 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBzpT9gNHwI
Rocedes Apparel Social Responsibility, 2010, Part 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCHuYPjzQr8

We had not asked Scott Vaughn of the Rocedes pants factory in Nicaragua to prepare a video. We did not expect it. Yet, when 120 of us sat there and watched this 10 minute program, no-one could speak afterwards. The impact was enormous.

Later, we traveled to Rocedes to document all of their social programs. It turns out, as Scott eludes to his talk, that ALL of these benefits were asked for by the people who work at Rocedes. They were solving problems they actually had as Nicaraguans.

Scott shared how one of his customers suddenly mandated that all employees had to wear closed toed shoes which, frankly, solved nothing. Ironically, during one of our visits to Sri Lanka, we toured a factory producing for this same customer in which the workers wore NO shoes!

Here is summary of the programs Rocedes were offering nine years ago:
HEALTH
Project ‘Going To The Dentist’ – with time payments
Low Cost Food Project (bundles of basic food at 19% discount for the workers)
Blood Drive
Free eye exams and low cost glasses
Free Cervical Cancer Exam with Scheduled Follow Up
Pharmacy discounts of 28-35% for extended family
Free Tetanus Vaccinations
Ophthalmologic project – free surgery for two ailments common among Nicaraguans.

PERSONAL
Bikes (Financing of hundreds of bikes for employees)
Project Shoes For Workers Of Rocedes (financing and special pricing) 
Discount cell phones for employees with 1 or more years service
Credit Card program for employees 
Rocedes 10 year Service Pin and monthly meeting of all 10 Year Club employees

CHILDREN
‘Orphanage of San José Protector’ – a Home for Battered and Abused Girls
Free ‘Children International Day’ picnic for 3,000 employees and their children
100% scholarships for 15 children to the free zone day care center
‘CANANCA’ – sponsorship of all medicine for 20 children with cancer
‘We Help Them Smile’ – funded correction of cleft pallets for 150 children

EDUCATION
Project ‘Literacy, Yes I Can’ – reading program for adults
Rocedes Library – a carefully stocked comprehensive collection
Lowest cost school items for employee’s children – negotiated discount plan
‘New Life Foundation’ – renovated a building which is now a K thru 6th Grade School
‘Rafael Herrera School’ – donated supplies to renovate the school, pay the annual salary of one teacher
‘Rosario Reyes Center for Teaching’ – donated 20 industrial sewing machines and yards of fabric

CULTURAL
Free monthly birthday parties for employees
End of Year Party with gifts, free food for home meals and money matching of department collections for their own private parties
‘Holy Week’ art contests, raffle of 400 food baskets and beach theme gifts
‘May 1 Labor Day’ celebration and free lunch for all
‘La Purisma’ annual celebration of the Virgin Mary with gifts and awards
‘Mothers and Fathers Day’ – recognition, gifts and special gifts for expectant mothers

ACTIVITIES
National Baseball League Game Tickets Raffle For The Employees
Rocedes basketball teams – 6 teams, free uniforms, games for 6 hours every Saturday
Sponsorship of two youth baseball teams

COMMUNITY
National Police Support of District Police Station 6 – computers, repair A/C, replace floor tiles
Housing Project – Habitat For Humanity Rocedes
Solid Rock Foundation – Run by Rocedes employees to contribute to the poor people in Nicaragua.

This 2010 AAPN Annual Conference was a tipping point for us. Every meeting since then has become progressively larger, more topical and increasingly cumulative. So, please read these comments about this specific meeting which allude, of course, to the value our members assign to this network:

• “everyone here realizes we are further ahead of sustainability than we thought”
• “sustainability can not be defined, really, it is just doing the right thing”
• “sustainability does work. The active pursuit of sustainability, of doing the right thing, generates more goodwill and galvanizes your customer more than any marketing you can do”
• “you do not have a choice but to promote your proactivity in sustainability. You are being defined by your customer. If you do not write about your company, someone else will”
• “sustainability is not a tomorrow problem”
• “where else have you ever seen every link in the chain in one room at one time talking about one problem?”
• “this is truly a top down initiative. And it is a bottom up action plan. What AAPN and its supply chain membership can do is both by surrounding sustainability from the top to the bottom”
• “more important than learning the message is not getting across is learning who came to this meeting to hear to hear it – 17 brands, retailers and uniform companies I would not have met under any other circumstance”
• “this is not an initiative, its a movement”
• “I don’t know if the world is really flat but I know it isn’t level. I hoped this meeting would be a tipping point and it clearly was”
• “actually, the major problem is staring us in the face – lack of knowledge about the supply chain, loss of experience, bad decisions, poor strategies, insufficient resources. Look at a long term relationship with a factory and its based on knowing the supply chain”
• “there used to be many places for the industry to meet. I have been going to industry meetings for years. This meeting is unique because the chain is here and interactivity during the meeting is not only allowed but the core of the meeting. This is the best meeting I have ever seen”
• “I can't begin, or end, to articulate how great the meeting was. We should all feel proud that (we) not only put on a great event, but had, what I believe, was a "game changing" event. Now the real work and fun begin.”
• “I gained much information, new insights, and valuable contacts at your most timely and engaging conference. It was one of the best I have attended in recent years.”
• “I walked away with a much better sense of how other companies are regarding "sustainability". We likely need to give ourselves and the chain more credit for what we are already doing every day.”
• “it was unquestionably the best meeting I believe I have ever attended. It truly struck a nerve with all of the supply chain. It is rare that a topic is not only the right thing to do but can also make a return on investment, proverbial win win”.
• “It was an environment brimming with anticipation. A wide cross section of stakeholders across the merchandise pipeline engaged and open minded, seeking to know more about sustainability from the incredible pool of intellectual property that was gathered and ready to share. A great event!”
• “I was amazed at the participation. The whole supply chain was there. The collaboration was amazing. The meeting was as good as it could be. I am committed to the region and want to get more involved.
• The event was active, the participants were engaged and everyone was committed to sustainability. The collective was looking for definition, direction, duration and destination of sustainability. There were no spectators only players. Next the sustainability value proposition needs to be propagated as part of the region’s DNA and the compelling component of the supply chain.
• Rocedes efforts rank up there with the best around the world.