Experiencing CSR firsthand
By Casey Shillito
Eight days, six flights, three hotels, two countries, two factories and far too many hours on a bus is the best way I can summarize my recent trip to Vietnam and China. Without babbling too much about how life changing the experience was or providing graphic details about how the American version of Chinese food is nothing like actual Chinese food, having the opportunity to travel with Top of the World and nine representatives from seven different schools to visit two amazing countries and see two factories in action was an experience that I will never forget.
After almost missing my connection in Atlanta and around twenty hours in the air, the trip began in Vietnam. We had the opportunity to experience Hanoi and its rich history, amazing food, and complete absence of anything resembling traffic laws. I learned to pay close attention to my surroundings and nearby vehicles on the first day when I was nearly run over by a motorbike while trying to cross the street.
While in Vietnam, we had the opportunity to visit PNG Vietnam, a headwear manufacturer utilized by Top of the World located in Hai Duong, Vietnam, over an hour outside of Hanoi that employs roughly 1,200 workers. After arriving at the factory and being welcomed by the employees, we met with the management and ownership of the factory who provided a brief presentation on the background of the factory, their processes, and their efforts in the areas of social compliance and corporate responsibility. While the presentation did a wonderful job of laying out the efforts PNG had taken to ensure they were in compliance with the appropriate labor codes and labor requirements, the tour of the facility allowed us to get a clearer look at the production process. Getting to walk the factory, interact with the workers, and see the environment firsthand really emphasized how PNG values the happiness, health and safety of its employees.
After a few days in Vietnam, we were off to China. I was not sure what to expect when we arrived in Shanghai, but I certainly had not expected to fall in love with the city as quickly as I did. The lights in Shanghai were stunning and the city provided one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. But of course we weren’t in China to just sightsee and shop, the bulk of our time not spent in transit was in meetings.
Over the course of two days, we had the opportunity to meet with WD Fashions, a Top of the World partner who provides apparel items. We visited their design studio to discuss their processes and toured one of their manufacturing facilities, Ningbo Munuo Garment. Munuo is around four hours outside of Shanghai and the visit to this factory was a distinctly different experience from PNG Vietnam. The facility was much smaller and had a workforce of roughly 150 employees. WD Fashions had provided a presentation detailing their efforts in the area of labor code compliance and corporate responsibility, but once again it was the tour of the factory that proved to be the most illuminating part of the experience. I cannot overstate the value of getting to visit two factories with very unique and different approaches to social compliance and labor rights.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to truly communicate the impact this trip had on me. Since I returned to U.S. soil, I have struggled to process everything I saw, learned and experienced. Having the opportunity to visit with a licensee’s manufacturers, to interact with the workers and factory management directly is an experience that would be beneficial to anyone who has the slightest connection to the apparel industry. How we operate our licensing programs, our attention to labor codes and social compliance, the decisions we make on a regular basis as universities, licensees or licensing agents ultimately have an impact on far more people than we may think and being fortunate enough to visit these factories serves as a very real reminder of this.
I owe a massive thank you to Top of the World and their sourcing partners for organizing this trip and their amazing hospitality, as well as all of the university representatives who were on the trip and made it such a fun experience! I will certainly never forget it.