Leading denim manufacturer SAITEX and UNDP partner to drive employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in Viet Nam.
In the middle of Viet Nam’s industrial heartland of Dong Nai is not where you might expect to find a workplace adapted to the needs of over forty workers with disabilities. But leading global denim manufacturer SAITEX has shown how to go beyond expectations and rhetoric to create meaningful and safe employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
- Leading businesses awarded for driving diversity and inclusion of marginalized groups
- 42 persons with disabilities secure sustainable employment
- Guidance for industry on adopting diversity and inclusion
SAITEX is the only large scale denim manufacturer in the world to receive a B-Corp certification, which demonstrates their commitment to sustainability. Currently the company employs 42 persons with disabilities and were able to hold on to all these staff despite COVID-19. Together with UNDP, SAITEX plans to start a movement of change by building diverse and inclusive workplaces in the manufacturing sector in Asia-Pacific, and have committed to making 20 percent of their 2,000 strong workforce differently abled or coming from vulnerable backgrounds by 2025.
Diversity and inclusion, or D&I, refers to business initiatives that build a diverse workforce and create a working environment that allows all employees to thrive, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or being differently abled. Many leading companies such as IKEA, Deloitte, L’Oréal and Microsoft have endorsed global standards to promote the inclusion of women, LGBTI persons and persons with disabilities. But D&I is not just the right thing to do, it is also good for business. McKinsey estimates that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 30 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
While many businesses have seen the huge potential in building D&I in their workforce, the manufacturing sector, very often out of the eye of ethical consumers, has lagged behind. But SAITEX are looking to change that.
Founder and CEO, Sanjeev Bahl, knows first-hand the positive impacts large scale manufacturing can have on people’s lives:
“To achieve a world with no boundaries, we must constantly be reinventing our approach to create and sustain equal opportunities. And we in the manufacturing sector can play a huge role in starting this movement of change.”
In 2019, UNDP, together with partners organized the second instalment of the Én Xanh (Blue Swallows) initiative, which recognizes leading sustainable businesses in Viet Nam. Under Én Xanh, UNDP partnered with SAITEX to grow D&I in a sector that helps drive employment in emerging economies: the manufacturing industry.
In December 2019, UNDP conducted a site visit of the SAITEX facilities to see how to grow D&I in the manufacturing sector. The results of the assessment will be used to help the manufacturing sector to understand the business case in building a diverse and inclusive workplace, and offer practical guidance on how to turn commitments on D&I into real employment opportunities for vulnerable and marginalized groups.
A key lesson learned by SAITEX on their journey, and a lesson to any factory looking to join this movement, is their openness to working with other organizations including local disability groups. This has allowed the company to understand intimately the professional and personal needs of persons with disabilities, and provide safe, secure and sustainable employment opportunities. Training on disability and inclusion is provided for existing staff, while disability sensitive skills training is delivered for new staff with disabilities. Working hours and workspaces are tailored for the needs of employees with disabilities.
Hong, a bright young girl with a mobility disability, shares that working in SAITEX has taught her skills that she would otherwise have never gained:
“I joined here in November 2019. Initially, I was taught how to operate a sewing machine. Because my legs are weak, I was then assigned to quality control and hand embroidery, that suit my abilities perfectly.”
Beside her usual role, Hong has also been acting as sign language interpreter, helping staff members to communicate with employees with hearing impairment.
Linh, another employee in the factory added: “Coming to work here has provided me an opportunity to socialize and make a lots of new friends. I don’t think this would be possible if I chose to stay at home.”
Looking ahead, SAITEX and UNDP know that getting the wider manufacturing sector to embrace D&I will be a huge challenge.
But UNDP Resident Representative in Viet Nam, Caitlin Wiesen, remains hopeful for the future:
“The manufacturing sector hold tremendous potential to change the lives of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, and SAITEX have shown it doesn’t take much to accommodate persons with disabilities and make their workforce a more inclusive, dynamic and innovative. We hope the success of this initiative motivates other factories to follow, so they too can play their part in leaving no one behind.”
 Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, McKinsey, Why diversity matters?, January 2015.