Partnering with ethical businesses is critical to us. We strive to work with businesses who hold the same values as us, and aim for fair and sustainable business practices. For us, finding a manufacturer of palm leaf plates that met this criteria was absolutely paramount before we would ever begin selling them in North America. We wanted to ensure that the company we worked with not only provided exceptional quality products, but their working conditions and standards were excellent. What we found in Magnus Eco Concepts was so much more than this!
In 2011, by stroke of luck we found a producer of palm leaf dinnerware called Magnus Eco Concepts (MEC). At that point, the company consisted of brothers Satheesh and Nanda Kumar. After several online conversations we agreed to purchase a large quantity of palm leaf dinnerware in good faith. We showed confidence in their company, it it was returned back to us. Once the goods were received we were so impressed with the quality and their ongoing customer service was exceptional. At that point we knew we had found the right palm leaf supplier.
We quickly increased the order volume and soon Satheesh contacted us to let us know that his production capacity was nearly maxed out. We suggested that he could switch from a one-shift system to a two or three-shift system and thus increase his production. The answer from them was "No" (but for good reason). After some questions, the Kumar brothers said that the production is done exclusively by women, most of whom are mothers. Late and night shifts are therefore excluded. Their staff could work when the children are at school or day care. During the day. And only then. We then jointly decided the only solution was to purchase more machines and hire more people. We respected their desire to not overwork their staff and wanted to continue working with them.
Impressive On Site Meeting
In 2013, we visited MEC for the first time and got to know Satheesh and Nanda in person. The brothers had built a manufactory that exceeded our expectations in every way. Clearly defined processes, well thought-out workflows, uncompromising quality thinking and unparalleled production machines were all very much present in their modern manufacturing facility.
Adding Value to Employees Lives
Product quality and a modern manufacturing facility is not everything. Equally important are the working conditions for the mostly female employees on site. Satheesh and Nanda surpass our expectations even today. MEC bought a bus and hired a driver to get their employees to work safely and back home. This bus picks up the workers every morning and drives them home after work. Free.
On a piece of land, the brothers and some employees run natural farming. They grow fruit and vegetables and pass the harvest on to their employees to make sure they have healthy food. For the fresh food everyone can pay what he or she considers appropriate and take it home for their families.
Our personal highlight is a project of which we have learned incidentally. For each child of a co-worker, Satheesh and Nanda plant a teak tree. The families take care of the tree and are allowed to cut it down after 15 years. The wood is sold and the families receive the proceeds to finance the education of their child. How cool is that!?
Currently 180 women and men work at MEC. And because many of them have small children whose care is not always guaranteed during the day, Satheesh and Nanda built new premises in the spring of 2018. Within this new building is a small kindergarten. Two supervisors take care of the employees' children during their working hours and this is all covered by the company, the employees do not pay a cent for this!
Fair working conditions
As we are well aware, it is not uncommon for factories to pay their workers well under what is deemed minimum wage. At MEC, hourly wages are still above average. The employees receive paid holidays and are covered by health insurance. Work is done in eight-hour shifts six days a week. Overtime is paid twice. And in terms of safety at work, Satheesh and Nanda make no compromises. Regular training in safe machine handling and emergency response is as much part of the program as proper workwear and routine fire alarm exercises.
Regulated working hours, fair pay, safe working conditions and a comprehensive social package? It all sounds almost too good to be true. But over the years, a partnership between two companies has become a friendship between the people who run these companies. We visit several times a year and remind ourselves time and again of the exemplary social conditions prevailing at MEC. But we understand that our word alone may not be enough for everyone. At regular intervals, MEC audits are carried out by independent testing facilities. It is tested according to the strict criteria of the BSCI standard. MEC has passed each of these audits - last time in May 2018.
We look forward to continuing our partnership with Magnus Eco Concepts and watching and being involved with even more improvements over the years to come. They are setting an example in the industry, and we do hope that more factory facilities in India follow suit.