Monday, November 23, 2009

Remembering Neal Kearney

In the world of CSR, there’s much discussion of “stakeholders” and whether or not a company is appropriately engaging them. My last company, an apparel retailer, had an especially sophisticated approach to stakeholder engagement. It’s a years-long evolution that has resulted in very strong relationships.

One of the company’s most important stakeholders is the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF), a global union federation that advocates for workers’ rights in apparel supply chains. Neal Kearney, who sadly passed away unexpectedly last week, was the general secretary of ITGLWF and a very passionate, committed defender of human rights.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Neal several times during my tenure at my former company. He was fiercely intelligent and did not compromise when he thought the well-being of workers was at stake. His tireless efforts took him around the world, and his perspective was respected and sought by many multi-national apparel companies.

But beyond the great work he did on behalf of under- (or un-) represented garment workers everywhere, he was a very charming and kind man. As a representative of a major apparel retailer, I often found myself at the receiving end of his criticisms, but once the “work” part of our meetings ended, he’d be the first to suggest grabbing a drink. In these social situations, I found Neal to be funny, engaging and a pleasure to be around. He stood firm on what he believed, but he also knew how to enjoy life.

In Neal’s passing, the world has lost a true champion of the underprivileged. He will be missed.

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