Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Travel Bug

Friends, I apologize for my lack of posts, but I've been all over the place during the past few weeks. Part of what I enjoy most about my job is the opportunity to visit different parts of the world and learn about communities and cultures to which I've previously had no exposure. But when you have those moments when you wake up and your first thought is, "Wait, what country am I in again?" it may be a bit too much.

So, to make writing this post easier, I'll organize my recent travels by location:

Istanbul, Turkey
After a long night of flying, I arrived in Istanbul with several of my Supply Chain colleagues for a vendor summit. We've been working with more and more vendors in the Middle East and Mediterranean region, so we decided to host a formal day where we could get to know each other better.

Representatives from about 30 vendors, suppliers and partners showed up and we gave them a thorough overview of our business, our brand and our supply chain strategy. I spent some time discussing our factory compliance program and shared with them the CSR vision and strategy I've been working on. It's not quite "approved" yet, but it was great to explain to our partners that CSR will be more than just compliance. Our company will be looking for ways to create value from CSR and it's essential our partners understand where we're going.

Casablanca, Morocco
After the vendor summit, four of us traveled to Casablanca and visited a number of factories around Casablanca. We've already been working with one of the factories, but this was an opportunity to tour new factories to see whether or not they have the capability to work on our product. From my perspective, I had the chance to see factory working conditions firsthand and provide my input into potential suppliers.

Furthermore, meeting with Moroccan factory owners gave me the chance to dive into a strange Moroccan labor law with which I was pretty unfamiliar. The law has the potential to negatively impact overtime payments, and in extreme cases could be perceived as a form of forced labor. But because it's the law, we have to work with our suppliers to understand ways to make sure workers fully understand their rights.

Amman, Jordan
Continuing on our tour of potential factories to work with, we headed to Jordan to tour several factories. From a social responsibility perspective, I concentrated mostly on the topic of foreign workers - people who have come from other countries like Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka to work in Jordan for several years. These foreign workers are especially vulnerable to discrimination, abuse and potential cases of forced labor, so it is important for us to learn more about how we can protect their rights.

Biella, Italy
After visiting factories, we headed further upstream and met with textile and yarn suppliers in Italy. For me, it was an education in seeing how yarn is spun from wool and how fabric is woven from threads. It was pretty fascinating and I learned a lot about the impacts that our upstream suppliers have.

One of the most interesting things I got to see was a fully automated dye house. Dyeing yarn can be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly processes, but this particular facility had a state-of-the-art, computerized contraption that required only one person to operate the entire process. And thanks to technological advances, it not only limited human exposure to toxic dyestuffs, it also used less water to dye yarns and highly curbed the amount of effluent released by the process.

New York, NY
After a few days at home and back in the office, I headed down to New York to visit employees in our New York office. My main purpose was to meet with members of our Marketing team and to meet with a consultant, but I easily filled my time there with additional meetings on a variety of topics.

It's always good to meet with my colleagues face-to-face and a quick trip to New York is always worthwhile to build relationships.

My friends and family get excited when I talk about upcoming trips, but to tell the truth, I didn't have any time to do any sightseeing in all the countries I visited. Over the course of two weeks, there were only three days where I wasn't on a plane, and when I wasn't sleeping or visiting our partners, I was usually in a car or a van, traveling from one point to another.

I guess this means I'll have to go back to visit these countries and save some time to actually see some of the sights!

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