In Conversation With Nicole Voillat, Sustainability Director, Bata Brands SA

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Nicole Voillat, Sustainability Director, Bata Brands SA shares her thoughts on CSR and Bata’s Sustainability Program with IndiaCSR

Nicole Voillat, Director of global sustainability program for the Bata Shoe Organization and the Bata Children’s Program Foundation based in Lausanne, Switzerland, has been working in sustainability and CSR  for the past 12 years with both the private and non-profit sectors.

Key achievements as sustainability Director at Bata Shoe Organization include Set up the sustainability program as well as the Bata Children’s Program Foundation from scratch and successfully defined and implemented the company’s sustainability strategy over 3 full cycles. Published the first Sustainability Review in 2013.

Previously Nicole worked for as SA 8000 social auditor, in private sector environmental awareness program at the World Conservation Union, in public-private partnership sector at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Before that Nicole worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 8 war-hit countries around the world as well as at the HQ in Geneva.

She holds hold a Master degree (MSc) in Responsibility & Business Practice from the Management School of the University of Bath (UK) and a Master in Linguistics and Interpretation from the University of Zurich (Switzerland).

How does Bata perceive CSR?

We don’t call it corporate responsibility, we call it sustainability. CSR implies only the social responsibility but we are also including our responsibility in the way we are dealing with business. We try to produce, to source, to buy, to sell in such a way that respects not only the people but also the planet.

It’s been 15 years since we’ve been talking about CSR. But our company has been talking about acting in a responsible way since 120 years. It is actually in the DNA of the company that we have always respected people and the environment. Because of the business model the company is built upon, it is a family business, therefore continuity and long term due is intrinsic part of the business. And as such the company has to make sure that the next generation would be able to enjoy the company as their predecessors have.

How is sustainability implemented and monitored at Bata?

Like I said sustainability has always been in the DNA of the company. If you go through the timeline in the sustainability review you’ll see in which sense the company has been responsible for e.g. building towns around factories, giving housing facility to the employees and building schools for the children of the employees. It is an absolutely revolutionary model which has been replicated around the world. If we’re talking about India, our specialty at Bata is that we work local, meaning we are a global company but very much local.

In India we probably have one of the best examples. We have five factories in India. One in Faridabad, one in Patna, Kolkata, Bangalore and one in Hosur. Our strategy is to be global but local: most of our products are produced where we sell. So actually, 80% of the shoes produced by Bata are made in India, under Indian management, Indian supervision and by Indian employees.  And therefore, the transportation cost from the factory to the store is far inferior to if they would have come from say Indonesia, China, Vietnam, like the majority of the shoe makers do. So in that respect also we are preserving the environment by reducing our fuel emissions, because we produce in the country itself.

Nicole, how about going beyond the employees and addressing the community needs.

Mr. T.G. Bata has created the Bata Children’s Program in 2011. It’s a Bata employees volunteer-led program focused on creating a better life for vulnerable children where Bata operates in. It’s not a typical charity program. In this program, in the countries where Bata in active, the Bata employees are engaged  to work with a number of NGOs or schools in order to improve life of the needy children. So, in India we have been engaged with volunteers in a number of projects like for example mentoring girls of the Govt. Girls Primary School in Gurgaon, which provides education to 280 underprivileged students. We have more than a 100 employees engaged in schools where they help by mentoring children, by restructuring schools, means that employees-volunteers go and put their hands in dirt and restructure the housing, the building, by cleaning the place, by renewing the place together with the help of masons and this we are doing mostly in places which are near to the offices of the factory. So that the employees can go easily to these places and give constant and steady support to schools, orphanages. We’ve also built a number of libraries in schools for disabled children. Bata Children’s Program is present globally and at  present in 2 countries with more than 3500 volunteers that have given more than 45,000 hours of work volunteering benefitting more than 100,000 children.

How many children have so far been benefitted from the Bata Children’s Program in India?

I do not have the exact numbers but approximately 3000 children in India have so far benefitted from the program.

In terms of environmental protection, what does Bata do in their own factories?

In our factories we recycle everything. We have practically zero waste almost everything is either recycled or up cycled. We have a system in which our roofs are equipped with transparent plastic sheeting, which allows natural light to come in during the day which in turn allows us to avoid switching on the lights in our factories during the daytime. In Bangalore, we have a water harvesting system in our factory that allows us to save a lot of water that we use for toilets, cleaning and for watering the gardens.

Do you have any women centric programs?

Yes, we do. We have two programs which are particularly successful. One program in Bangladesh and the other in Latin America (Colombia and Bolivia). You’ll find all the details in the Sustainability Review.  I really encourage you to go through it.

So talking about the program in Bangladesh, it’s a social enterprise where 3000 destitute women can access to an independent income by selling shoes door to door.  They buy the shoes from us mostly flip flops and they sell them in rural areas.

Their income is of about 80$/month, which is really good in Bangladesh considering that in the garment industry they get around 40-45$/month. This program has been extremely successful. We started this program in 2005 with about 45 women and now we have more than 3000.

We have a similar program in Latin America called Aquarelly, but the range of products is much bigger. We have from sandals to high end shoes in this catalogue. This catalogue is of more than 100 pages probably. There are about 10,000 women between Columbia and Bolivia. They go door to door with the catalogue, to offices and households, and they come back and take on the order of whatever they want and then these shoes are delivered directly to the offices or households of people who have chosen them. This program has also been very successful.

Thank you, Nicole Voillat for taking out time for this interview.

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