The CEO of Timberland describes the push-pull of making sure overseas employees aren’t forced into illegal working situations.
Question: What is an ethical dilemma you face?
Jeff Swartz: If you read our code of conduct, which is the rules by which other companies employ people on our behalf, so in China or Vietnam or in Portugal, if you want to make Timberland’s shoes in somebody else’s factory or apparel our code of conduct says we will not permit an employee to work… your employee to work more than 60… We will not allow you to have an employee of yours work more than 60 hours during a work week, any consecutive work week. Now if you read the codes of all our competitors, good companies, they say no more than 60 hours in any given work week, except at peak times because business is seasonal, right and so the problem with that is it’s hogwash because we have to define our terms, so since we’ve said peak time in haven’t said more, then if you want to work 120 hours in a factory six months out of the year just call it peak time. Now there is a dilemma boss because we pay more as a result. We have to have more people in the factory. We have to flex the factory up and down harder than the other guy does and the factory owners say to me you’re not doing the right thing. When we say you have to be 16 to work in a Timberland factory anywhere in the world, not our factory, but somebody else’s factory making our stuff. They say, but the law here says 15 and we say I heard you and if it sounds like the imperial American from New Hampshire you got to live with me fellows because I can’t live with me otherwise. We’ve done work on this. This is what we believe is right and so it’s not an ethical challenge in the sense of should we or shouldn’t we, but it plays out as like these guys aren’t easy to do business with or this insistence of a point of view creates tension and it’s real.
Recorded on September 21, 2009