@MusingMutley: Can you be the world's largest jewellery producer and still have heart?

@MusingMutley: Can you be the world's largest jewellery producer and still have heart?

Craft with conscience

Text: Norman Tan

Image: Pandora

PANDORA has just opened a new craft facility in Lamphun, Thailand

Let me introduce you to the world of PANDORA by looking at the numbers:
8,100 points of sale
21,500 employees globally
122 million pieces of jewellery crafted in 2016
2.7 billion euros in revenue generated last year

Any way you look at it, PANDORA is a behemoth of a brand, and with the recent opening of its craft facility in Lamphun, Thailand — capable of housing 5,000 more craftspeople — it's still growing.

There's a prevalent assumption that, when it comes to business, big is bad. Why? Because we equate bigger business with greater environmental waste, lax workplace practices, and ultimately, heartless cost reductions in the pursuit of profit. Management wins, and your average worker gets pummelled.

Founder Per Enevoldsen believes that if you treat your staff right,then they will be willing to go the extra mile for you.

Which is why, when I attended the official opening of PANDORA's Lamphun facility just last week, what struck me the most wasn't the numbers (impressive as they are) but the fact that this Danish brand — officially the world's largest producer of jewellery — hasn't lost the heart and ethos of its founder Per Enevoldsen who started the company 35 years ago. PANDORA has mastered the tricky combination of craftsmanship and scalability, but has done so without forgetting about the welfare of its staff and considering its impact on the environment; core values that have always been at the cornerstone of Enevoldsen's approach to business.

As always, the proof is in the pudding. And, when it comes to employee welfare, who better to talk about it then the staff themselves. Case in point: More than 1,500 employees from PANDORA's Bangkok facility agreed to voluntarily move their families to Lamphun — literally start a whole new life — in order to help train new workers. Watch the video below for a testimony from two such craftspeople: Bee and Jet. 

Seated in the library of the Lamphun craft facility, just one of the countless free services provided by PANDORA for its people, I speak to Vice President Claus Teilmann Petersen, who is responsible for group ethics, about the economic costs of social responsibility; how the new facility is LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design); and what still needs to be done for the future.

What does Corporate Social Responsibility mean to you?
CSR is about identifying the values of your company and then surveying your surroundings to see how those internal values sit in context of external expectations: What does our staff expect from us as an employer of choice? What are the legal regulations? And also, how do we meet our consumers' expectations? It starts with a strong understanding of what the company stands for.

So what does PANDORA stand for? What are your core values and how do they dictate your CSR?
In short, we have three core values: First, pride in our brand (as represented by a lion); second, passion for crafting beautiful jewellery (as represented by a giraffe because it has a big heart to pump blood all the way to his head); and third, performance to excel (as represented by the hard-working bumble bee). These values resonate with how founder, Per Enevoldsen, looks at the world.

PANDORA's new green facility in Lamphun, Thailand

Per and his wife Winnie travelled around Asia back in the 1980s in search for a place to base their jewellery business and eventually chose Thailand because it has very capable craftspeople. Per is a very humble man, but he is also a guy who really believes that if you treat your staff right, and if you treat your suppliers right, then they will be willing to go the extra mile for you. That's why our CSR is so focused on staff welfare and being transparent about our expectations.

There's an assumption that being socially responsible is expensive and will hurt the bottom line. Do you agree with that assumption?
I absolutely disagree. We now have approximately 12,500 people working for Pandora here in Thailand. And last year, we had a turn over rate of just 3.3% which is just one fifth of the industry standard. Just think, if we had to train five times as many people, it would really increase our costs and reduce productivity. It's not just the cost of hiring more people, but the extra trainers we need to employ to equip all the new staff. So being socially responsible actually means people are more productive, more engaged, contribute more ideas, and are more innovate. We also don't lose talent to our competitors. In the long run, CSR definitely pays off.

And it also improves your reputation. PANDORA recently had an overwhelming response to an advert for more workers?
Yes. We simply put up a notice in our facility for 1,000 new workers. Not an external advertisement, just an internal advert to our existing employees to ask friends and family if they wanted to work for us. And on recruitment day, we had 12,500 people line up outside our office and causing a traffic jam!

PANDORA staff in the Lamphun, Thailand craft facility

Of all your CSR and green initiatives, what are you most proud of?
At our other production facility in Bangkok, we were initially throwing everything away and not recycling. We challenged our Thai colleagues to come up with better solutions to our crafting waste and today we practically don't have any waste at the factory. All our crafting waste is simply being reused or recycled. And at this new crafting facility in Lamphun that we have just opened today, it is officially Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified — an important green building certification that is used and recognised worldwide. We believe that this facility is the most modern and environmentally friendly jewellery facility in the world. And we challenge any other jewellery company to show us otherwise.

What are some key green elements of this new Lamphun craft facility?
There are so many things that make this facility green and world class. For example, from installing 8,500 square metres of solar panels on the roof to provide 14% of the plant's energy needs, to clever design that funnels air throughout the building to make it cooler, and the fact that more than 80% of the gold we use is from recycled sources. Everything has been taken into consideration to help reduce our environmental footprint.

Solar panels on the Lamphun facility supply 14% of the plant's energy needs

How about in terms of CSR. What are you most proud of when it comes to staff welfare?
So, one of the things we are doing is providing a financial literacy course for all our staff. Because we pay our staff more than the industry standard, many employees move into the middle class of Thai society when they work with PANDORA. But we've noticed that they are not always very careful with how them spend their money. There are a lot of cases where our staff go out and buy a car for the first time, but due to a lack of financial education, end up signing loan agreements with high interest rates — sometimes 25% — which means they're stuck with a large debt. Our financial literacy course helps them understand and steer away from bad financial decisions.

Looking towards the future, what still needs to be done in terms of CSR for Pandora? What's on the top of your list?
First of all, moving towards a more gender equal workplace, especially at top management where there is only one woman to seven men. At the board of directors level, there are currently three women out of nine directors. But at lower and middle management, there are actually more women. And secondly, to reduce overtime at PANDORA. Overtime is not bad per se. We provide overtime pay for our staff. But in Asian culture, a lot of our staff actually choose to stay back to earn more money. So, ironically, if we don't provide overtime we risk having our staff leave. But the issue is that people are less productive when they work longer hours. And importantly, as an employer of choice, we want to promote a healthy work-life balance and culture.

For an inside tour of the new PANDORA craft facility in Lamphun, Thailand — and insights into its green design — watch the video below.

Check back every Monday for another @MusingMutley column from Norman Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Buro 24/7 Singapore. For more columns from @MusingMutley, click here.

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