Like many companies, we use the phrase “corporate social responsibility” to talk about the things we’re doing to make the world around us a better place. But the phrase itself has never sat too well with us. For one thing, we don’t think of ourselves as particularly corporate. More to the point, “corporate social responsibility” can sound like a PR obligation – something a company does because it’s expected to – whereas at DEDON, positive social action is an everyday expression of our culture. “There are certain values, such as respecting others, that we hold in our own lives,” explains Hervé Lampert, DEDON’s CEO, “so why shouldn’t they be the foundation of the organization as well? When you look, for example, at the work people do here in Cebu – the time they spend, the processes involved, the beauty they create – you have to respect it by allowing them to share in the success of the organization.” For Hervé this means not merely complying with local labor standards but, as with everything we do, setting our own standards and continually raising them. “We’re not in Southeast Asia because it’s cheaper, but because of the competency and skills here, weaving in particular. So for us, it’s natural to show people that we care about them the same as we do care about our partners everywhere. The respect is real. We’re all part of the same team.”
For our partners in Cebu, equitable wages – “far beyond what the law requires,” says Hervé – are just the beginning. Each day, a small fleet of modern DEDON coach buses heads to the north and south of the island to pick up employees and drop them home, ensuring safe, free transport (a significant cost in the Philippines). Free daily meals at our cafeteria, meanwhile, mean healthy food in a friendly, team-building environment. But perhaps the most significant benefit our Cebu partners enjoy is membership in the DEDON cooperative bank, an employee-owned savings and credit facility initiated by senior management to combat the vicious cycle of personal debt that’s so common in the Philippines. The fund teaches the value of savings (the average employee has three to four months’ salary put away) and investing. With regular contributions from the company, the cooperative provides credit to members – for emergencies, school tuitions, holidays and other needs – at rates one-half to one-third of those on the street. One hundred percent of profits are pumped back into the fund.
Even with all these benefits, however, Hervé is quick to note that people’s respect can’t be bought. “It has to come from within, from the way people are treated.” And whether at our manufacturing facilities in Cebu, our headquarters in Lüneburg or any other of our far-flung locations around the globe, DEDON prides itself on treating people well. In our home country of Germany, the press has written extensively about the unusual benefits our employees enjoy, including a gourmet Italian restaurant, a fitness center and athletic facilities, personal trainers, yoga and fitness courses and more. But for us, there’s nothing at all unusual about these benefits. On the contrary, they’re the obvious extension of our philosophy: to achieve harmony between our nature and our work. It’s only natural, then, that all of our employees should have the opportunity to pursue that harmony.
But as important as the treatment of our people is to us, our sense of social responsibility extends much further. “While I strongly believe,” Hervé says, “that the best corporate social responsibility is to create jobs that let employees achieve a good standard of living and a good life-work balance, once you succeed at that you also have to see how you can reach out to people in the wider community who might be in need.” And for Hervé, it all comes back to respect: “One of the keys of DEDON’s success is that the people of the Philippines have given so much to help us create this unique organization and these beautiful products. So how can we give back to this community?”
At DEDON, we try to give back in ways that keep on giving, with projects that help people generate livelihoods. Over the years, we’ve been involved with a great many such projects, and we’re continually seeking new ones that meet our standards. In general, we try to get involved in the initiatives of business support organizations, local government units, charities and foundations that promote poverty alleviation, education and innovations that bring about social change. For example, we donate the fabric scraps from our cushion production to an elderly women’s group from the local Canduman community. Members then sew these scraps into bags, which they sell at the local university of San Carlos. The sewers earn an average income of PHP 2,000 per day. Another of the community projects we’re involved in is Gracie Q, an organization that teaches skills to youth offenders in local prisons. Using off-cuts of DEDON Fiber, the inmates create attractive, hand-made key chains and other accessories that are perfect for export. Not only do the inmates now have skills they can use when they get out of prison, but the Gracie Q business itself also employs some 30 people with incomes large enough to support themselves and their families. In addition to our direct community involvement, we at DEDON include our strict ethical policy as part of our corporate social responsibility program. We believe our customers value good business ethics as much as we do, and it’s critical to us that the quality of our products and services never compromises their reputation or ours. For this reason, we go to great lengths to ensure that our suppliers and all of those with whom we do business adhere to the same uncompromising standards. We work in partnership with our suppliers and help them deliver products and services that meet our requirements – and yours.