Dec 01 2010
If you’ve ever spent any time in Lesotho, in the heart of South Africa, you’ll know that in many ways it’s still a developing country . It’s also a place where people work to make some of our products.
Today, we’re in Lesotho to support the official launch of Better Work Lesotho. This is an initiative set up by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor conditions and worker rights in Lesotho’s garment industry. Better Work brings together ministries of labor and trade, employers' and workers’ organizations, and international buyers -- all to improve compliance with labor standards and to promote competitiveness in global supply chains. The Better Work program is currently active in the garment sector in seven countries, and Better Work Lesotho represents its first country program in Africa.
The initiative is particularly near and dear to our hearts. It’s been a little over a year since we learned that a cracked pipe outside one of our contracted factories in Lesotho was leaking untreated wastewater from our supplier’s fabric mill into a local river. We also learned then that solid waste from our suppliers was being sent to a municipal landfill, which was accessible by the local population and, as a result, a potential public health issue.
We acted immediately. We partnered with factory management, third-party experts, non-governmental organizations, and local and national government officials to address the immediate situation. Beyond that, we also worked with these same parties to create an action plan geared towards ensuring long-term social and environmental sustainability of the Lesotho garment industry.
While there is still much to be done, I’m glad to say we’ve made a lot of progress in addressing the prevailing issues in the affected area in Lesotho:
- The municipal landfill is now fenced and public access is restricted. Children can no longer access the landfill site. And wherever possible, waste -- including glass, cans and denim scraps -- is separated for recycling. The government of Lesotho has plans to establish a new landfill.
- We worked together with our suppliers and government officials to ensure that wastewater sludge is removed for safe disposal.
- Our suppliers worked together with the local community to clean up local rivers. All solid waste and visible traces of sludge have been removed.
- We’ve put contingency plans in place at all our suppliers’ wastewater treatment plants to prevent problems. On top of that, we’re enforcing strict reporting requirements that must be adhered to.
- We’ve provided community grants to two local businesses. Technologies for Economic Development (TED) is focused on environmentally friendly wastewater treatment devices for households. And Da Planet Recycling Shop is a community-based organization that works with women to turn fabric waste into crafts for sale.
We can’t solve these problems alone – or overnight. Still, working to address the complex and challenging issues in developing countries like Lesotho is part of our company’s ongoing social responsibility efforts. And it’s so much better than having this situation cause us to take our production elsewhere.
Supporting improved infrastructure for the Lesotho garment industry, where we have capacity to make a difference, is an important priority for us.
Better Work Lesotho is an important first step in that journey. We recognize we still have a long way to go.
Posted By: Thulani Duma, Regional Senior Specialist, LS&Co. Social & Environmental Sustainability
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