This week Heather Franzese joined Todd and me in Mumbai. Heather arrived straight from Washington D.C. after attending a meeting of the MFA Forum
(Multi Fiber Agreement).
At the MFA forum, brands, NGOs and multi-lateral organizations met to discuss the impact of the current economy on garment workers’ lives. Reduced consumer spending in the US and Europe has many factories struggling to stay open, and some have already closed. The MFA forum is exploring ways to support socially responsible factories to help them
stay open so that fewer garment workers will lose their jobs.
Heather arrived in India with a sense of urgency and an understanding of the unique challenges factories are facing in today’s economy.
Esteam, a CMT (cut, make and trim) factory located in the town of Miraj, 350 kilometers south of Mumbai, is an example of how a commitment to social responsibility has helped a company grow.
Esteam was one of the first factories to produce Fair Trade cotton products for the European market. Esteam specializes in printed cotton bags and also produces knit and woven apparel, work-wear and other accessories. Today, over 80% of the merchandise Esteam produces is made from Fair Trade cotton. When Esteam started producing for the Fair Trade market, the company employed 75 workers; now there are nearly 500 employees.
All 498 workers are represented by a workers committee. Every department is represented and any worker who wants to join the committee may do so. Heather and I met with several representatives from the Esteam Workers Committee to talk about Fair Trade and TransFair USA’s work in the textile sector. As is often the case when talking to worker representatives, the first thing that came up was a desire to save more money for their childrens’ education. Another issue that workers mentioned at every meeting was wedding expenses. Those we spoke with thought it was a good idea to have a community fund which could loan workers money at a low interest rate when a daughter was to be married.
Before we left, Samir Matah, the owner of Esteam, gave me an assortment of great bags made from Fair Trade cotton. He also showed us beautiful paper products he has developed using cotton scraps from the sewing facility. Recycling fabric waste into paper is only one of many sustainability initiatives Samir has initiated.
On the drive home, we encountered a wonderful surprise. As we were driving through the town of Jainapur, we saw a lively procession in honor of the inauguration of a new Jain temple. Jainism
is an ancient Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all forms of living beings. Girls from the town were dressed in beautiful yellow saris and carrying offerings of coconuts. There was even a decorated elephant complete with a riding platform that held several people. We learned that the major sponsors of new temple were given the honor of riding on the elephant’s back.
We jumped out of the car to watch the procession and to take pictures. A few of the young women pulled out mobile phones and took our pictures right back.