Together with the children’s organization Save the Children, the S.Oliver Group has offered young workers in Bangladesh vocational training in the clothing industry for around 10 years. What began as a social commitment has now expanded into a project to protect children’s rights and prevent child labor more effectively. Along with training opportunities for minors, the international fashion and lifestyle company’s expanded partnership also includes a measure to promote family-friendly workplaces.
“The S.Oliver Group is a company with strong roots, whose interest is in people above all and the generations to come. It is therefore an essential goal of our sustainability program to ensure fair working conditions for people along the supply chain,” said Oliver Hein, chief operating officer of Germany’s S.Oliver Group, who is also responsible for sustainability. “We are very proud that with Save the Children, we continue to have a strong partner in this area who we can work with over the long term, and we are now able to take our collaboration to the next level.”
In tandem with the project, the Rottendorf-based retailer, which recently donated 8,000 items of winter clothing to support people affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, is revising its company guidelines concerning responsible ways of dealing with child labor to strengthen its approach to due diligence and social compliance. It’s working with Save the Children to develop a robust child labor policy that includes concrete steps for prevention.
“The lack of safe workplaces for young employees between the ages of 15 and 17 is one of the main causes of child labor. Many young people worldwide have to work for a living or contribute to the household income of the family, yet the formal sector frequently fails to offer sustainable earning opportunity ties,” Florian Westphal, CEO of Save the Children Germany, said. “This means that many children have to work in precarious circumstances or in the informal economy, where children have less protection and face a greater risk of exploitation. With S.Oliver and the supplier companies in Bangladesh, we are committed to tackling precisely this issue and can work together to lay an important foundation stone to help disadvantaged young people find work in safe conditions, where they can develop themselves both personally and professionally.”
The Young Workers Development Programme enables disadvantaged young people to find skilled work in the clothing industry after finishing school, and earn a higher income. Forty-five junior staff up to the age of 17 per training year receive six months of hands-on education in sewing or silkscreen printing. This culminates in an internship for at least three months in one of three businesses supplying the S.Oliver Group, with the goal of permanently employing trainees after the program concludes.
Participants also receive training to further their personal development, including soft skills, financial basics and computer work. The training center, approximately 18 miles from the capital city of Dhaka, has been outfitted for the collaboration by the S.Oliver Group, which operates the QS, Copenhagen, Liebeskind and Comma labels, in addition to its namesake brand.
Save the Children manages the program with its subsidiary The Centre for Child Rights and Business (CENTRE) and Underprivileged Children’s Education Program (UCEP). Young people in Bangladesh often have trouble finding work in a safe environment when they leave school and reach 18, the age of maturity. They often work in precarious conditions as children to support their families. This is where the project comes in, by actively including the employer perspective and training the participating businesses in how to deal with young trainees. Participating suppliers must guarantee shorter working hours, suitable workplaces, and management methods.
Complementing the commitment to young workers, the “We Care” module focuses on the needs of working parents. It provides strategies, practices, and programs to help employees balance their parenting role, personal development goals and workplace responsibilities. The factories should be capable of continuing the measures long-term and without the organization’s support.
A third module covers the S.Oliver Group’s guidelines for dealing with child labor. The existing guidelines are examined by Save the Children and processes are developed to uncover cases of child labor and prevent them from happening in the future. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the children’s charity of the United Nations, UNICEF, the number of children involved in child labor has risen to around 160 million worldwide.
Both partners draw on the requirements of the textile industry and their extensive expertise from the predecessor model Work2Learn Advanced. Between 2011 and 2020, more than 500 young textile workers in this project received specialist training. The S.Oliver Group’s suppliers also participated in the project by providing internships or taking on young workers and benefitted from the new talent’s expertise. In 2013, Work2Learn Advanced was awarded the Innovation Award for Vocational Training Projects in Developing Countries by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Last month, the S.Oliver Group was among the companies that signed the Pakistan Accord on Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. The accord aims to improve the safety of workers in the workplace and ensure that factories are safe. The International Accord is based on the Bangladesh Accord, which was signed in 2013 following the dramatic collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory and subsequently extended. It was the first legally binding accord of its kind between industry representatives and unions.
“For us as a family-owned company, the safety of our employees and the people in our supply chain as well as societal engagement have always plays a decisive role,” Hein said. “By signing the Pakistan Accord, we are taking the next logical step towards accepting responsibility for factory workers in Pakistan.”
In 2019, S.Oliver and Uniqlo-owner Fast Retailing faced a complaint with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) for failing to pay workers in Indonesia $5.5 million in outstanding severance payments after two factory suppliers “closed down overnight.” Lodged by the workers-rights consortium Clean Clothes Campaign on behalf of workers of the Jaba Garmindo factory group, the complaint accused the Uniqlo owner and the German brand of violating the FLA’s “principles of fair labor and responsible sourcing.”