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商业 - 消费品

利比里亚服装新城见闻

Ashley Bush 2011年07月12日

利比里亚妇女缝纫项目是一家新成立的服装厂,旨在为妇女提供就业机会。该厂还是非洲第一家也是唯一一家公平贸易工厂。

    利比里亚蒙罗维亚市(Monrovia)--那一瞬间,我竟然忘了我们驱车前往的目的地。映入眼帘的是一条单车道的街道,人头攒动,汽车不得不排成一列,小心翼翼地徐徐前行。车辆不断挤占着街道上有限的步行空间,然而老老少少全然不顾,穿梭于车辆之间,忙于清晨的生计。光着身子的婴儿在一小桶脏水中沐浴,女人们将篮子高高顶在头上,兜售货品;男人们背负着沉重的物资---才不过早上8点,每个人都已经忙开了。人群尽头是一排排望不到边际的迷你锡棚屋,一间挤着一间,构成了成千上万人的居所。我们拐过一个街角,停在了视野中唯一一座水泥建筑的前面。

    我的一个同伴告诉我,“接下来几天这儿就是我们的活动主场”。我们正处在利比里亚蒙罗维亚市West Point的中心地带,贫民窟区域,而且可以说是西非人口密度最大的贫民窟区域。我是特意前来参观利比里亚妇女缝纫项目【the Liberian Women's Sewing Project(LWSP)】的。这家新服装厂主要是为妇女提供就业机会,同时也是非洲第一家也是唯一一家公平贸易工厂。我很想知道“公平贸易工厂”到底是怎么回事,但我不惜长途跋涉来到此地也有我个人的原因:我和我姐姐创立了一个裙装品牌,叫Me & the Mini(me就是mini)。当我听到利比里亚妇女缝纫项目时,我就在想能否让这个工厂代工我们的裙子。通过销售这一女性专属产品,一来工厂可以做我们的供货商,二来也完全符合女性互帮互助的理念

    Monrovia, Liberia—For a second I forgot where the car was taking me. We emerge down an overpopulated, one-lane street, driving cautiously and single file. People of all ages shuffle around the cars, going about their morning business as if not noticing the two vehicles invading their limited walking space. Naked babies bathe in small buckets of dirty water, women sell goods from baskets perched high on their heads, men carry loads of heavy items on their backs—it's 8 am and everyone is buzzing. Beyond the masses of people lie endless rows of small tin huts closely hugging each other, homes to thousands. We pull around a corner, parking in front of what seems to be the only concrete building in sight.

    "Here is where we will spend the next few days," one of my companions tells me. We were in the heart of West Point, the slum of Monrovia, Liberia, and arguably the densest slum in all of West Africa. I had come here to visit the Liberian Women's Sewing Project (LWSP), a new garment factory aimed at employing women that was also Africa's first and only fair trade factory. I was curious to see what a 'fair trade factory' was about, but I was also motivated to make the long trip for my own reasons: I'm creating a skirt line with my older sister called Me & the Mini (me being the 'mini'). When I came across the LWSP, I thought if the factory could make our skirts, it could both be our supplier and fit well with our concept of women helping women—all through the sale of a very feminine item.

非洲第一家公平贸易工厂利比里亚妇女缝纫项目厂房外貌

    去年12月,我见到了奇德佳•力波提,自由与公正公司(Liberty & Justice)的首席执行官和合伙创始人。该公司是利比里亚妇女缝纫项目的母公司。经过多次邮件和电话交流后,我非常高兴得知这位自称“奇德”的家伙终于来到了纽约,并准备拜访潜在的投资商。这也给了我们面谈的机会。我们在切尔西当地有名的Blossom素食餐馆共进了晚餐,而且谈得十分投机,比我原计划的时间多了整整三个小时。奇德和他的家人都是在蒙罗维亚出生。在他18个月大的时候,为了躲避利比里亚日渐恶化的政治环境,全家从利比里亚逃亡至美国,最终定居在密尔沃基。25年之后,也就是2009年,奇德辞掉了在旧金山前途大好的金融工作,转而回到利比里亚成立了自由与公正公司以及利比里亚妇女缝纫项目。

    在晚餐当中,我们渐渐聊起了公司女性员工的故事,那个时候我还真不太相信他说的都是真的——妇女们眼睁睁看着自己的家人在内战中惨遭杀害,除了身上穿的衣服她们已是一无所有,然而得益于奇德工厂里稳定的工作岗位,这些妇女慢慢克服了心中的恐惧。奇德建议我亲自去一趟利比里亚看一下工厂-----他尤其提到让我参加并见证工厂将在4月底完工的“联合工作室”,这个工作室将为前来工厂工作的妇女提供3天的岗前培训。服装厂现有30名员工,还将再招聘29名女工—--所有这些员工都必须先在这个工作室接受培训。当时我毫不犹豫地就答应了,暗自庆幸自己原本只打算在晚餐中谈谈物流和产品价格后,没想到最后还能捞着去利比里亚的机会。奇德拿走了我带过去的裙子样品,而且保证届时在我访问公司时给我准备好裙子的版型。

    16个小时的飞行结束后,等待我的蒙罗维亚之旅是将会如何,我当时一无所知。在我离开之前,我阅读了利比里亚总统艾伦•沙立夫•强森的自传《前途无量的孩子》(This Child will be Great)。通过该书,我多少想象了一下我的利比里亚7天之旅。了解了利比里亚的历史,你自然就会明白为什么奇德和他的合伙人亚当•巴特兰毅然成立该公司。亚当是奇德最好的朋友,在密尔沃基一起长大。在过去的30年中,利比里亚已饱受两次内战的摧残,成千上万的人因此而无家可归,也无法从事经济领域的高产出行业,再加上80%左右的失业率,整个国家陷入了贫穷的恶性循环。另外一项对妇女们极为不利的限制是:如果一个家庭只能供一个孩子上学,那么男孩往往有优先权。结果,女性只能留下来看家,前途一片渺茫。

    Last December I met with Chidegar Liberty, the CEO and co-founder of Liberty & Justice, the umbrella company that founded the Liberian Women's Sewing Project. After numerous email exchanges and a couple of phone conversations, I was thrilled that "Chid," as he calls himself, was finally in New York meeting with potential investors, thus giving us the opportunity to talk business face to face. We met at Blossom's, an iconic vegan restaurant in Chelsea for a dinner that lasted a good three hours longer than I planned. Born in Monrovia, Chid and his family fled Liberia for the United States when he was 18 months old, ultimately settling in Milwaukee, to escape the country's deteriorating political situation. 25 years later, in 2009, Chid left a burgeoning career in finance in San Francisco to return to Liberia and start Liberty & Justice and the LWSP.

    Over dinner, business talk inevitably led to stories about the women he employs, stories that seemed so unreal to me at the time—women seeing their families murdered in front of their eyes during the civil war, women left with nothing but the clothes on their back, all slowly overcoming their fears with the help of the stability of having a job at the factory. Chid suggested I come to Liberia to see the factory for myself—specifically, he recommended that I come and witness the factory's so-called 'alignment workshop' at the end of April, a three-day orientation workshop the women go through before starting their jobs. With 30 current employees, the LWSP was ready to add 29 more—all of whom would need to go through the workshop. With little hesitation, I said yes, thinking to myself I'd come to dinner wanting to talk logistics and production rates, and left with a trip to Liberia on the agenda. Chid took the sample skirt I brought to dinner, and promised to have a prototype ready when I visited.

    I really had no clue what adventures awaited me at the end of the 16-hour flight to Monrovia. Before I left, I read Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Jonhson's autobiography This Child will be Great, which helped me imagine what my week might be like. Understanding of the history of Liberia is vital to understanding why Chid and his partner, Adam Butlein—his best friend from growing up in Milwaukee—started the company in the first place. For the past three decades, Liberia has been rattled by two civil wars, forcing thousands from their homes, and isolating them from productive sectors of the economy. This, along with an unemployment rate hovering around 80%, has resulted in a vicious cycle of poverty. Women have been left at a particular disadvantage; if a family can only afford to send one child to school, the boys generally have the first go. As a result, most women are left to care for the home with little hope of a future.

妇女们正努力工作,为PrAna运动产品零售商加工公平贸易T恤

    奇德和亚当于2009年建立了利比里亚妇女缝纫项目,教妇女们使用缝纫机这一简单而实用的谋生手段,进而帮助女性从家庭走向职业岗位。利比里亚妇女缝纫项目的从业女性来自于利比里亚首都蒙罗维亚各大妇女团体,目前该公司第一批30名员工已于2010年1月底之前培训完毕。

    我抵达工厂时,几乎快被拥抱得喘不过气来-----我这辈子也没在60秒内接受过这么多次拥抱。双方相互介绍后,女工们开始高呼口号。领头的塔娜是公司工会主席,35岁上下,她的一句爆发力十足的“我们是女人!”响彻厂房。其他29名员工跟着高喊“非洲女人!”。此情此景着实具有感染力,不到一会功夫,我就加入了她们的行列。

    利比里亚妇女缝纫项目的女性员工不仅仅只是雇员,也是公司的股东,共同持有工厂49%的股份。工厂要求她们参加金融培训课程“营运资产”。课程由一家当地银行教授,该银行是工厂的合作伙伴。除此之外,员工还必须在该银行开立账户----这是利比里亚女性前所未闻的新鲜事物。同时,如果女工们的钱在账户里的储蓄时间达到一年,自由与公正公司会通过旗下的非营利性分支机构在她们的账户里存入同等数额的钱,一分不少。

    岗前培训的内容涉及如何节约开支和树立工作责任意识。经过两整天紧张的培训之后,新手便开始与老员工一道工作,认识新同事,同时第一次接触新工厂。对于新手来说,一切都是那么震撼人心。这次,奇德和亚当直接雇用了West Point贫民窟的一整个妇女团体。对于她们来说,从尘土飞扬、叫卖吆喝的路边来到粉刷一新的水泥厂房,其中之差别无异于白天和黑夜。

    Chid and Adam founded the Liberian Women's Sewing Project in 2009 to try to transfer women from domestic work to formal employment by teaching a simple but meaningful trade—how to use the sewing machine. Selecting women from various women's groups around Liberia's capital, Monrovia, LWSP had its first round of 30 employees ready and trained by January 2010.

    When I arrived at the factory, I was greeted with a sea of hugs—I don't think I've ever received so many hugs in the span of 60 seconds. After introductions, the women broke into a powerful chant. Tanneh, the mid-30 year old president of the factory's union, led the way, shaking the room with her energetic shout—"we are women!"—while the 29 others chimed in with "women of Africa!" It was hard not to join in, and I soon found myself chanting along with them.

    The women of LWSP are not only employees, but also part owners, together holding a 49% stake in the factory. They are also required to enroll in a financial education program, 'Working Assets,' with a local bank the company partners with, and required to set up their own bank accounts—something virtually unheard of in Liberia for women. Through a nonprofit arm, Liberty & Justice matches, dollar for dollar, any savings they retain in their accounts for one year.

    After two intense days of various orientation workshops on topics like how to save money and understanding the responsibility of working at the factory, the trainees merged with the factory's existing employees, meeting their new coworkers and seeing the factory itself for the first time. It must have been a shock for the newcomers; this time around, Chid and Adam had hired the entire group from the slum of West Point. The change of scene from the side of the dirt road where they used to barter goods to the sunny white concrete building must have been like night and day for them.

杰娜,利比里亚妇女缝纫项目的雇员,向人们展示着她要为自己和家人努力工作的承诺。

    当几位勇敢的女士主动站起来讲述她们的故事时,我感到很震惊。杰娜,这位32岁肤色黝黑的利比里亚人,是第一个站起来的。她饱含着眼泪向我们讲述了她的故事,在她还是少女的时候,他父亲把她卖给了一位已有7位太太的伊斯兰教徒。她无法从他先生那脱身----“一旦被扔进了性奴的火坑,前途一片黯淡”,她说道----听到这里,女员工们都哭成一片。她加入了蒙罗维亚的一个妇女组织,在得知她的悲惨遭遇后,该团体立刻推选她来利比里亚妇女缝纫项目工作。这份工作让她可以不用再回家,从此远离暴虐的丈夫。自杰娜敞开心扉之后,又有几位女员工自主动走到人群中间分享了她们的故事。

    奇德和亚当所创建的利比里亚妇女缝纫项目有利于利比里亚高产贸易项目的发展,同时可以帮助女性获得其应有的权力。现今,很多女员工都有能力养活自己、家人,还能送孩子(包括男孩、女孩)上学。随着今夏第二轮投资的到位,奇德计划扩大该项目,并在未来两年内将招收女性员工的总人数增至900人。在这之后,他希望开设其他的分厂,并将业务拓展至整个西非。

    这次旅程大大加强了我与利比里亚妇女缝纫项目合作的决心。现在,我深深地感受到了消费的强大作用----取个人之于消费,还他人之于生计是多么有意义的一件事。对于Me & the Mini品牌,我们刚完成了第一批裹身裙的打样,用的是利比里亚当地一种叫Lappa的面料,利比里亚妇女缝纫项目将于秋天开始此裙的批量生产。有这样一个合作伙伴,我别无他求。

    I was shocked when a couple of brave women got up to share their stories. Jennah, a 32 year-old dark Liberian, was first. In tears, she told us how her father had sold her when she was a teenager to an Islam man who had seven wives. She couldn't get out of the relationship—"once sold into sex slavery your future doesn't look so bright," she said—and soon almost all of the women were crying with her. She became apart of a women's group in Monrovia, she told the group, and they soon selected her to come and work for the Liberian Women's Sewing Project—which allowed her to leave her oppressive husband's home. Once Jennah opened up, several other women stepped to the center of the circle to share their stories, too.

    What Chid and Adam have created in the LWSP is allowing a productive trade to emerge in Liberia while helping to empower women at the same time. Many of these women are now able to provide for themselves and their families, sending their children—both girls and boys—to schools. With a second round of investments closing up this summer, Chid plans to grow the program in number to 900 women in the next two years; after that, he hopes to open other factories and expand throughout West Africa.

    My trip only reinforced my commitment to partner with the Liberian Women's Sewing Project. I realize now how powerful the consumer's dollar really is—and what a message it can send if the consumer's purchase can actually give someone the tools to thrive in their local economy. As for Me & the Mini, we just finished perfecting the first prototype of our wrap skirts, made out of lappa, a local Liberian fabric, and are going into production with the Liberian Women's Sewing Project in the fall. I couldn't imagine a better partner.

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