Van Lier and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)
History and CSR
Loon op Zand
Van Lier originated in the town of Loon op Zand in Brabant (the Netherlands) in 1815 and the original factory, was located in the same town since the year 1900. At the end of last century it would have needed a complete overhaul and renovation to meet both modern technological needs as well as environmental regulations set by the European Union.
The rental contract of the building in which the factory in Loon op Zand was located however approached the end of its term in 2005 and Van Lier’s new owner, Geert van Spaendonck together with the Van Lier management team had to find a more sustainable solution for the future, both spatially and environmentally better suited to the needs of the company and its employees moving forward. The company had to become economically and logistically much more efficient to survive competition brought on by the influx of cheaper products initiated by changes in EEC import regulations in the 1960’s, combined with a decreasing interest in manufacturing within the labor market and the dwindling availability of resources needed within the sector.
Move to Sprang Capelle - modern and environmentally responsible premises
After much deliberation and consultation with all parties concerned, Van Lier moved to a smaller, more sustainable and environmentally responsible modernized factory in Sprang Capelle in 2005, in a building it shared with another Dutch shoe brand. The factory was modern and technologically up to date with efficient energy friendly air circulation systems, which was essential for the employees. It was still within the region but more suitable for the needs of Van Lier and its work force and better for the environment.
Social responsibility toward the workforce
Every move and change was done after discussions with the company council and unions and their full backing, with a fair payout and transfer possibilities. Some employees were eligible for pension and others got new jobs. According to a social agreement, half the staff left according to a fair and reasonable social plan agreed between van Lier and its employees.
In the initial stage 15 employees from Loon op Zand went to work in the new head office in Breda and 20 went to set up the modern factory in Sprang Capelle.
Further economic decline in the early years of the 2ist century combined with increasing price competition within the market saw many brands shutting their doors or moving production overseas. Due to this major shift in the economic landscape and many companies moving production to low wage countries, it became more difficult to procure raw materials, machines and know how. As a result of companies moving their production overseas, suppliers of machine equipment and raw materials (such as threads, lasts etc.) either went bankrupt or moved overseas, which made it logistically difficult to procure supplies in the Netherlands.
Because of these developments and a shift within the job market offering increasing numbers of higher paid blue-collar jobs with better working conditions, it became more difficult for Van Lier to find skilled craftsmen to work in the factories.
All these factors made it harder for Van Lier to produce efficiently and to make high quality shoes made from top quality resources to be sold at a reasonable and fair price to the consumer.
Due to a successful business strategy of designing and selling good quality fashionable shoes at an affordable price, opening Van Lier stores in major cities throughout the Netherlands, fast growth in internet sales, as well as the loyalty and support of its vast network of dealers, Van Lier was growing and expanding in sales and took the initial step to expand production to a partner factory in Poland and later to work with partner factories in Portugal as well.
Although the Van Lier held off closing production in the Netherlands for as long as possible, due to the many economic, resource availability and social difficulties mentioned earlier, it was decided that, after three years of production in Sprang Capelle, to stop production in the Netherlands altogether in 2008. Again, this was done with the agreement of the company council and unions and according to a social plan. Once again, some employees were retrained and joined the head office in Breda and others either went into pension, or found other jobs after retraining.
Some employees at the Head Office in Breda have worked over 40 years for Van Lier and some of them, are offered a possibility to continuing working part time for the company after their pension set in. The knowledge and experience of the people are considered very valuable to Van Lier and Van Lier believes that it is part of its responsibility to take care of their employees also after retirement because they have been loyal to the company for so many years. There are nine employees from the Loon op Zand period working either part time or full time in Breda headquarters, ranging from 20 to 40 years of loyalty to the company!
The design department, marketing and sales, finance, supply chain management, logistics and administration departments remain based in Breda, in the Netherlands.
Overseas production and expansion
As sales of Van Lier shoes started to grow fast, and in addition to the European production sites, Van Lier started up a relationship with a German/Indian family owned factory in India. Due to rapid development in technological know how and modern audited factories capable of producing top quality shoes for fashion brands in the far east, Van Lier also expanded its relationships to factories in China and Bangladesh in 2008. These factories are both owned by the same Taiwanese owner and work for other exclusive brands, and are stringently audited for all levels of the Social Compliance code of conduct set out by the International Labor organization as well as health and safety aspects.
Van Lier believes in building long term working relationships with good, reliable and high quality, audited suppliers, having very frequent direct contacts with its management teams and visiting and inspecting them on a seasonal basis.
The Present and CSR
Expanding your production facilities into the global arena brings with it a responsibility toward the men and women involved in production in those countries to ensure that their working conditions meet the four International Labour Organization principles.
- Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
- Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour.
- Effective abolition of child labour.
- Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
To ensure the fair treatment of employees worldwide, who contribute toward the production of Van Lier shoes, and to improve their working conditions when necessary, Van Lier management took the decision to become a member of the Amsterdam based independent, non profit organization Fair Wear Foundation. The Fair Wear Foundation’s eight point Code of Labour Practices incorporates the four ILO principles. Van Lier expects all its production partners to meet the standards set out by the FWF Code of Labour Practices, which are considered to be amongst the strictest in the world.
Fair Wear Foundation
Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)’s mission is to improve labour conditions in the garment industry. FWF has invested more than 10 years in developing effective solutions to the key problems facing workers in the garment industry. FWF’s four main areas of activity are:
• checking that member brands respect human rights in their supply chains
• checking working conditions in garment factories
• providing worker complaint hotlines in 9 production countries
• ensuring cooperation between factories, brands and all other stakeholders
FWF is an independent non-profit organisation that is jointly governed by representatives of business, labour and non-profit sectors. Member companies must sign the 8-point FWF Code of Labour Practices, which is based on UN and ILO principles. FWF publicly reports on the progress of member companies towards implementation of the Code. FWF also works closely with a network of stakeholder organisations in production countries. FWF’s 90 member companies are based in seven European countries, and represent around 120 brands. FWF member products are sold in
20,000 retail outlets in more than 80 countries around the world. FWF is active in 9 production countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.
Fair Wear Foundation Code of Labour Practices
- Employment is freely chosen
- There is no discrimination in employment
- No exploitation of child labour
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
- Payment of a living wage
- No excessive working hours
- Safe and healthy working conditions
- Legally binding employment relationship
Van Lier Membership of FWF and the Code of Labour Practices
Van Lier became a member of Fair Wear Foundation on 1 April 2015.
By joining Fair Wear Foundation and signing the FWF Code of Labour Practices, Van Lier promises to comply with the code within the company as well as requiring our supplier partners to do so as well. By collaborating and working with our suppliers in a mutually beneficial manner, Van Lier can support its suppliers and help them to maintain and improve fair labour conditions for its employees where necessary.
Here you can find our latest Fair Wear reports of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017.
FWF working method
FWF audits the factories in the high-risk countries in which they are active, they work with local auditors who speak the local language and know the customs of the community. During the factory audits they will interview the workers and provide feedback to FWF, the factory management and Van Lier.
Trainings both at factory management level as well as employee level are set up to inform both management and employees about the FWF code of labour conditions (based on International Labour Law set out by the ILO)
Local complaints systems are set up where the employees can file complaints directly with FWF or with local complaints handler, anonymously if preferred.
If a complaint is filed, the FWF local complaints handler reports to FWF. The accused party and Van Lier will try to resolve the problem at the local level with the support of FWF.
FWF Brand Performance Check
The Brand Performance Check is an independent assessment of how the FWF member is working to improve the labour conditions within the supply chain. The information for this assessment is gathered via audits and complaint reports and Members are evaluated according to several individual benchmark indicators and placed within one of the 4 Performance Benchmark Categories.
The 4 Performance Benchmarking Categories are
- Needs improvement
These categories are based on the minimum percentage of production under monitoring and the minimum benchmarking scores (individual indicator scores added together plus length of FWF membership). The brand performance report is published on the Fair Wear Foundation website Brand site after the end of each financial year. Since Van Lier joined FWF on 1 April 2015, the first Brand Performance report will be published after one year around the summer of 2016.
Van Lier transparency and working practices
In order to become a member of Fair Wear Foundation, Van Lier has to be transparent regarding its production facilities, listing every factory, quantity produced and price paid per factory per season.
An annual work plan has been devised with information regarding the working methods and supplier strategy. Plans are set up for: informing the supplier management and employees about the Code, setting up monitoring and training sessions where needed, and setting up a complaints procedure so that any complaints regarding violations taking place within Van Lier production lines can be reported. These procedures will be checked by FWF during the annual brand performance check with the results being published on the FWF website. http://www.fairwear.org/36/brands/
The Van Lier supplier partner facilities in the high-risk countries have already been regularly and stringently audited for the code of labour policies as well as health and safety by other well-known brands, which produce within the same factory.
By working with FWF, Van Lier would like to ensure that the factories in the high risk countries are audited by an independent organization, which will inform Van Lier directly regarding any violations to the code, taking place within their production line.
Van Lier chooses its production partners based primarily on reputation, quality, creativity in implementing the Van Lier design elements, problem solving and delivery times with price being one of the many factors taken into consideration.
When starting production at a new factory, the Van Lier team will visit the premises at the beginning of the relationship to get an eyewitness view of the factory as well as to build up a good understanding with the supplier, which helps when it comes to problem solving.
By having direct contact and building long-term relationships with its supply partners, Van Lier believes that it can work more effectively and sustainably for the future, which is beneficial for both parties.
For any one season Van Lier produces between 60% and 75% of its shoes within the European Union – Poland and Portugal, and between 25% and 40% in two audited, modern factories one in China and the other in Bangladesh. The two factories in Asia mainly work for other international brands and have production capacity reserved for Van Lier.
The Van Lier production teams will normally visit each factory once every season and more frequently for support and problem solving if any problems arise.
Van Lier practices timely production planning and realistic lead times to enable suppliers to plan their production lines adequately and are not faced with surprises which can possibly lead to CSR violations.
Both Van Lier and the supply partner carry a shared responsibility so as to ensure that the process runs smoothly and to find solutions to possible problems.
Tanneries and tanning
The leather that Van Lier uses comes from Argentina, Italy, Portugal and Spain and is a by- product of the meat industry. Van Lier chooses only the best quality leather and requires that the hides demonstrate correct treatment of the animals.
The tanneries that supply leather to Van Lier are situated in Portugal, Italy and Poland.
Tanneries are either certified by REACH (the system of registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals set up by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA http://echa.europa.eu/), or are members of the Association of Portuguese Leather Industry, the Polish Leather Industry or the Italian Leather Industry (which adhere to EU social and environmental standards).
Van Lier maintains a list of the tanneries that supply the company directly and verifies that direct suppliers as well as any agents they work with maintain the required European Social and Environmental Standards. Van Lier also ensures that tanneries test the leather or have it tested by independent laboratories for toxic chemicals, at different stages of tanning. Members of the Van Lier supplier team visit factories and tanneries and keep photographic evidence of processes at these facilities.
Some of the practical steps taken by Van Lier to reduce the risk of use of toxic chemicals is by using less brightly coloured leather in its range of products. To produce leather in very bright colours, a large amount of dye is needed as well as a lot of water. By keeping to shades closer to the natural, less dye and water are needed for tanning.
Being aware of leather origin, having contact with tanning suppliers, tannery testing for toxic chemicals as well as adherence to EEC social and environmental policies, using less intensive dyes and storing the shoes under optimal conditions are all ways in which Van Lier makes sure that its products meet health and safety as well as quality standards expected by consumers.
The Van Lier team also personally wears and tests samples of each model for comfort, colour -fastness and any defects. Only when the team is fully satisfied with the products are they sent out to the dealers and shops for sale.
If a product is found to be a defective, Van Lier will either remedy the defect or withdraw the shoes from its supply chain.
Leather tanning methods:
1. Chrome III tanning:
Chromium III sulphate (mineral) tanning uses a mixture of chemicals, acids and salts.
Most of the world’s leather is tanned using this method, which takes about 24 hours. The leather is soaked in an acid and salt mixture and then put into the chromium sulphate bath, which turns the leather blue (termed wet blue). Finishing colour is then applied to achieve any desired effect.
This type of tanning can guarantee the quality, suppleness, durability and colour consistency throughout the hides. Shoes made of chrome-tanned leather are durable as well as water and heat resistant.
EEC regulated tanneries used by Van Lier process and recycle the water to prevent chemicals being released into the environment and local water systems.
What is Chrome?
Source: International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Societies http://www.iultcs.org
‘Chromium and Leather research, balanced view of scientific facts’ paper written by Dr. Dietrich Tegtmeyer and Dr. Martin Kleban
Chromium is a naturally occurring mineral element and ‘Chrome III’ is the trivalent form important for human nutrition and is found in wood and soil in low concentrations. Chrome is used in many different applications and processes. Only 5 % of the world’s chromium is used within the leather industry, which includes shoes within its wide range of products. Chrome III is a sulphate of chromium, which has been approved for use in the tanning of leather for consumer goods. If used following European guidelines, leather made with it has been approved for use in the garment, footwear and accessories industries.
The tanneries monitored by Van Lier are required to follow the regulated processes using approved components, to professionally test extracts generated from the leather for the harmful forms of Chrome and other toxic chemicals throughout the process.
Van Lier products are handled and stored according to all required health and safety regulations to ensure that they reach the consumer in optimal condition.
To rule out even the slightest of harmful consequences, it is recommended that leather products not be left in direct sunlight for long periods of time, or exposed to fire.
If leather products are looked after according to the recommended steps, it is possible to enjoy using them for a long time.
2. Vegetable tanning:
Vegetable tanning is usually done by skilled labour using traditional tanning methods combined with modern technology and takes about 100 days to complete. This type of tanning uses natural ingredients such as tree barks, giving the shoes a natural colour. Vegetable tanned leather is considered completely biodegradable.
Vegetable tanning is considered to be more environmentally friendly.
However the process does require more water and natural ingredients such as tree bark.
Van Lier uses this type of leather for its ‘stressed look’ range. Any natural folds and colour differences are visible after tanning, giving the product its distinctive appearance.
Shoes made of this type of leather require more care, are less supple, can shrink and crack when exposed to heat. Colour varieties are limited and the product may stain when wet.
Van Lier has used both types of leather either for whole shoes or parts of shoes, depending on the collection. Leather soles are almost always made from vegetable tanned leather.
The future of leather tanning
The tanneries Van Lier works with aim to produce metal free environmentally friendly leather articles.
Van Lier keeps abreast of new developments in the leather tanning industry, looking out for the latest innovations that could enhance the quality of our products.
Van Lier encourages tanneries to find ways to reduce the use of Chrome 3, find efficient ways of recovering and reusing chemicals and recycling the water used to discover the most efficient base oils from saturated fats to bind the chrome to the leather.
Research staff are trying to find more efficient ways of controlling the oxidizing factors from chrome III to Chrome VI and it is important for Van Lier to keep informed about any advancement made in this field.
The search is on to find ways of recycling the tannery waste to make new products.
Van Lier internal CSR
- Part time re-employment of staff after they have reached pension age, in areas where they can help the company through application of their knowledge and experience.
- Equal number of women and men throughout all positions of the company
- Ergonometric adjustable chairs and tables for all office personnel, to make sure that each individual sits in the best possible position for his/her height.
- Personnel are encouraged to maintain Health and fitness with financial support from the company.
- Van Lier maintains safe and temperature controlled offices to ensure maximum comfort in the work environment including energy saving options.
- Maximum, efficient use of office space – constructing additional levels of storage spaces within ware houses and bringing all departments of the company under one roof to reduce travel requirements.
- Sharing container space with other brands and products during transportation and sharing storage when necessary.
- Striving for paper free communication within the company.
- Unsold or defective, but still wearable shoes are donated to international communities in need. This helps these communities greatly and avoids that unsold shoes are become waste without ever having been used.
Van Lier Sponsor projects
Van Lier is proud to sponsor the Dutch National Student Rowing Team since 2006 (http://knsrb.nl) to underline the importance of good health and fitness as well as supporting national student teams to achieve their sporting goals.
Van Lier makes high quality, durable shoes, which should last a long time. However we also sponsor and support the National Shoe Repair Federation http://www.stichtingschoenmakersgilde.nl/index.html, which is made up of the best shoe repair shops across the Netherlands, who use quality resources to repair top quality shoes.
Van Lier and its employees took part in a Belgian Red Cross coordinated action and donated 1000 pairs of shoes from leftover inventory, to the Bosnian people in the aftermath of the March 2014 floods. Van Lier employees worked hard and helped pack and load the shoes for transport, to provide shoes to people who had lost everything.
Van Lier sponsors human rights projects, university student activities, education enhancement projects in schools, medical research projects and Art.
- Fair Wear Foundation www.fairwear.org
- International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Societies http://www.iultcs.org
- Electronic Document Format(ISO)
FUCK, W. F.; GUTTERRES, M.; MARCILIO, N. R. and BORDINGNON, S.. The influence of Chromium supplied by tanning and wet finishing processes on the formation of cr(vi) in leather. Braz. J. Chem. Eng. [online]. 2011, vol.28, n.2 [cited 2015-04-22], pp. 221-228 . Available from: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php
MVO Nederland meeting ‘Grensverleggers in de leersector’