It may take a moment to recognize the ritual: It's a team-building exercise, the stuff of many a corporate retreat. This team, however, is distinctly uncorporate. These are apparel workers, some of the low-wage workhorses who power the global garment industry. Their voices are nearly drowned out by the thrum of sewing machines as others around them furiously cut, sew, and assemble Levi’s five-pocket denim pants. Still, as they share the string, some are laughing; almost everyone looks genuinely happy.
You’re looking at one, tiny piece of jeans giant Levi Strauss’s (Change the World 2017 list, No. 11) ambitious experiment to improve the lives of the 25 million men and women in the world’s apparel supply chain — and better its business results in the process. The players from Linea 1 are finishing a 10-week course designed to teach them about health, hygiene, and sanitation, as well as communication and critical thinking. The string game? That’s intended to make everyone feel personally invested in and accountable for acting on what they’ve learned. The cat’s cradle is a web of commitments, representing their new connectedness — a physical reminder that their bonds are stronger, surer than before.
The Levi’s initiative — “Improving Worker Well-Being,” officially — is about getting an industry to recognize that workers aren’t faceless cogs in giant profit machines, but people with feelings and needs. “This is about creating a culture that embraces well-being,” says Kim Almeida, who heads the program. “It’s a mindset shift.”
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