With small teams and limited resources, we CSR practitioners must often integrate our work into other departments' business processes to achieve our strategies and objectives. Given that, one of the most important parts of my job is to educate other Talbots departments and colleagues about what I do and why it's important to consider the external effects of our decision-making. Factory working conditions, the chemical content of dyestuffs, and carbon emissions all impact the perception of a company as a good corporate citizen, yet my colleagues may not necessarily see the link between their decision to source products from a particular factory and these externalities.

Like others in CSR, I hold countless meetings, conference calls, and one-on-one conversations to help colleagues understand these links--especially when crises emerge. The occasion comes along only rarely for colleagues to get a glimpse into the world of CSR, but when we can reserve space for these activities, it's powerful and moving.

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to bring our supply chain executives and account executives from our sourcing agent to a sweater factory in China for a "CSR Day." This was no one's first time in a factory: The majority of our 20-person group has visited hundreds around the world. This was the first time, however, that many of them had toured a factory with a focus on CSR.

I chose this particular factory because it is one of our HERproject partners. Through HERproject, workers have a unique opportunity to learn about health and wellness. They take classes in the factory during regular, paid working hours on topics such as sexually transmitted infections, nutrition, and hygiene. For many of these workers, this knowledge is sorely lacking, and peer education can have a huge effect on their health and well-being.

BSR's Rosa Kusbiantoro provided an overview of HERproject and the factory organized five peer health educators to share their HERproject experiences with us. Some common themes emerged immediately:

  • Before HERproject began offering training sessions, workers' understanding of HIV/AIDS transmission was limited.
  • HERproject provided practical advice that workers could incorporate into their daily lives immediately.
  • Peer health educators felt the factory actually cared about them as workers, as demonstrated by its investment in HERproject. 
  • Gaining the status of peer educators made them feel confident and empowered.

Our sourcing agent has generously matched our investment in HERproject, and my colleagues from both organizations came away from the day's events proud that our companies make investments in worker education, which was one objective of the day.

But for me, the fact that they heard a human story associated with the tens of thousands of factory workers with whom we connect around the world is the real accomplishment. In my quest to bring to life the importance of factory working conditions to colleagues who face constant pressure to deliver high-quality products on time, this one day of sharing HERproject with our executives has likely done more than all of the meetings and conference calls combined.

BSR Confernce 2017: How Business Leads, learn more