In the United States, we are accustomed to hearing about the immigrant experience. A family leaves their homeland behind, starts all over, and out of the ashes of what is often a devastating move is a success story. It’s one reason why we hear so much about “American Exceptionalism.” But the immigrant success story is hardly unique to the USA. One story is emerging in South Africa, where a family forced out of Zimbabwe has found success in 7 years, became a model of supply chain sustainability, and will have its football (soccer) jerseys showcased at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which opens this week.
William Hughes and his family moved to Capetown, South Africa, after one of Robert Mugabe’s mobs forced them off of their Zimbabwe farm in 2003. Having lost everything, Hughes came across a t-shirt manufacturer that was close to shutting its doors. He bought its assets, kept the staff, and offered a manager, whose 25 years in the industry was too important to lose, 10% of the company. The seeds for employee engagement were planted.
Impahla Clothing has since become an integral supplier to PUMA. Impahla, which employs 180 workers, pays its staff wages higher than the national average, and hires no child or forced labor: nor does it allow any of its sub-contractors or suppliers to run afoul of its strict labor ethics. In 2006, Impahla started participating in PUMA’s pilot project, “Transparency in the Supply Chain,” which followed the Global Reporting Initiative’s ESG (environmental, social, and governance—European term for CSR) guidelines. The company has since issued a 51-page sustainability report that documents how it became South Africa’s first carbon neutral garment manufacturer, and Mr. Hughes appeared at a press conference announcing PUMA’s commitment from 20 key suppliers to submit rigorous ESG reports. What’s impressive about Impahla’s report is its transparency: documenting the challenges as well as accomplishments, and giving the how and why it will come issues related from absenteeism to its sourcing of raw materials.
Ubuntu, or “I am who I am because of who we all are,” is the guiding spirit behind Impahla, and for football aficionados, the results will show on 4 African teams that will participate in the World Cup. Players and their fans from Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Ivory Coast will all sport PUMA jerseys that Impahla manufactured. It’s an exciting time for football fans in Africa and around the world. And it’s also a great case study of how a smaller company can make a commitment to its community, employees, stakeholders, and the environment and find remarkable success in a few short years.