SA8000: A HUMAN STORY
Denim authority, a Tunisian company specialising in the development, manufacture and sale of finished textile products, employs 1400 people on its Ras Jebel site near Carthage Bashar Esshali, the company’s SA8000 representative describes the path leading to certification. The trade union representative Amor Grindi tells us about the changes he has seen in the company since then.
Denim Authority is the first Tunisian company to obtain SA8000 certification.
What were the reasons for choosing this form of certification?
There were two main reasons. On the one hand, the vision of the management, which is always seeking to improve working conditions and, on the other, the demand from customers– brands such as Lee Cooper, Chasin, Scotch & Soda, Tommy Hilfiger, Campus – who normally have their suppliers audited and who were relieved to hear that we were going to be certified SA8000. To these, we should add a fundamental economic and human dimension. One example: working in safe and hygienic conditions has a considerable effect on the health of workers. In 2008 – when we were not yet SA8000 certified – we had 75 accidents in the factory, whereas in 2009 we had only 17 (figures up to October).
The human impact is obvious and it results in better economic performance, since it represents more than 650 extra working days from our employees in one year. This clearly illustrates the benefits of certification. The management reports we have been using since certification allow us to manage production better while improving working conditions. Another example is even more telling. In the hot season, it becomes difficult to work in some workshops. We have therefore progressively installed ten or so cold water fountains which cool the atmosphere in the workshop and allow workers to quench their thirst when required.
The effect on absenteeism was immediate. This kind of small improvement has brought the rate of absenteeism down from 16% to around 6%. But, in more general terms, the results are indirect. Although the textile clothing sector largely ignores legislation on wages and working hours, we remain fully competitive, even though our wages are higher, we pay social security contributions, and we observe the 48-hour week by limiting the use of overtime …
Amor Grindi, you are the workers’ representative for the trade union, and also involved in SA8000 certification.
What has changed most as a result of this certification?
Many practical things, but the main difference is communication between workers and management. It is much easier now to communicate with the management to bring up workers’ grievances. Dialogue is simpler because it is organised. For example, we now have three suggestion boxes, and they are all full … although you can't do everything at once, we know that from now on answers will be given to our questions and demands.
What is the most difficult thing in getting SA8000 certification?
Training (response of both interviewees, editor's note). It takes time and effort to explain what certification can bring. For example, you have to show the benefits of wearing protective equipment to people who are unaware of the risks they are running. Wearing masks in the washing shop is a good example of this. The workers were breathing in cotton particles so fine that they couldn't see them. So for them the mask was unnecessary. We had to show them that the opposite was in fact the case.
How much did certification cost?
We already had an advantage as our factory is ISO 9001 and OHSAS certified. SA8000 certification itself cost 5000 euros. We were certified by the Italian company Rina.
But the true cost is indirect and difficult to assess: time, modification to certain processes, purchase of equipment, investment in infrastructures (e.g. the fountains which cost around 500 euros each).