Fairtrade clothes for Swiss Post employees

Are the emergency exits clear of obstructions? Does the fire alarm work in the factory? Can the seamstresses afford to send their children to school? Secil Helg is a specialist in sustainable procurement. She conducts regular on-site inspections to ensure that foreign textiles suppliers comply with stringent social standards – for her it is simply a question of common decency.

“Can I square it with my conscience?” Secil Helg feels that this question is essential when she inspects Swiss Post's textiles suppliers. Outdoor clothing, foulards, sweaters and more: in 2018 alone, Swiss Post ordered some 82,000 pieces of clothing comprising 96 models in a wide range of sizes from 16 factories in 9 different countries.
The specialist in sustainable procurement visits the different manufacturers abroad between one and five times a year and is generally accompanied by a work colleague. The supplier training sessions and audits last three to four days on site.

Occupational health and safety take priority

Before her visits, she prepares thoroughly for the task at hand. Regardless of whether she is in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland, Secil Helg is familiar with the labour laws, cost of living and minimum wage. Once there, she asks for the floor plans of the factories and checks whether emergency exits are free of obstructions and first aid kits are available. “We inspect, note, photograph and document absolutely everything, says the expert, “from fire extinguishers through in-house regulations to the anti-static floor mats at the ironing station.” Occupational health and safety take top priority She is all the happier as the joint efforts of Swiss Post's suppliers have ensured that no industrial accidents have been recorded.

Are the wages enough to live on?

Then she wants to know how the seamstresses are paid. Secil Helg talks to the personnel manager, the accountant – and above all the seamstresses themselves. She reads the employment contracts before digging a little deeper: is the wage sufficient to meet the basic needs? Is it paid on time? Calling on more than 30 years’ experience, Secil Helg has an in-depth knowledge of the textile industry, the processes and the prices of materials. The price calculation is transparent. That means that she can assess how much profit a supplier must make to be able to pay fair wages. The success story here is that, in every country, the staff of Swiss Post's suppliers earn more than the legal minimum wage.

Close cooperation with the ILO Better Work Programme and the FWF

What is the situation concerning days off? Is excessive overtime required? The basis for checking the work conditions are the Swiss Post Code of Ethics and Social Responsibility, the core labour standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the standards of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF). Swiss Post has been a member of the FWF since 2012. Since 2014, it has held the status of “leader”: Swiss Post is number 1 in Switzerland and number 7 worldwide with regard to implementing stringent social standards among manufacturers and ensuring compliance with human rights. The FWF also supports Swiss Post with supplier training courses and audits in Bulgaria and China and the ILO Better Work Programme in Jordan.

Protests are expressly permitted

“The Swiss Post Code of Ethics and Social Responsibility and the FWF 'Code of Labour Practice' are displayed in the factories in the language of the country,” notes Secil Helg. “On these, I show the workers the telephone number and e-mail address for complaints. ‘You can sue us if the Swiss Post Code of Ethics and Social Responsibility is not complied with!’ – I tell the women that very clearly.” Fortunately, the seamstresses have not yet had any cause to file a complaint.