Crystal Group workers on the PACE programme

Crystal Group workers on the PACE programme

With productivity improvements among the benefits of its worker empowerment initiatives, garment-making giant Crystal Group now plans to expand the programme to two-thirds of its 60,000 workers in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam over the next five years.

The Hong Kong-based company today (11 November) told just-style it intends to scale up Gap Inc's PACE (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement) programme, designed to provide life and work skills to female garment workers in factories supplying fashion retailer.

The project is expected to benefit 40,000 of the total projected 100,000 workers across its global operations by 2020.

The scheme's expansion follows a successful pilot that began three years ago at its Yida denim jeans factory in Zhongshan, China – the single largest exporter of cotton trousers and shorts to the US.

Around 400 female workers have undertaken seven learning modules covering communication, time and stress management, problem solving and decision making, general and reproductive health, financial knowledge, legal literacy, as well as execution excellence.

Among the benefits, the factory's PACE participants increased productivity by 15% on average and their demission rate dropped by 3.4%. Factory staff have also volunteered to mentor the PACE participants too.

 "We have [also] received encouraging feedback from PACE graduates that by applying the skills they learnt over the course of one year, they have become more capable of tackling issues at home and at work," adds Catherine Chiu, general manager of Crystal's corporate quality and sustainability department. "Many told us that their family and workplace relationship has improved significantly."

Other developments have seen the PACE project roll out to the group's second facility last month – a Chinese T-shirt factory in Dongguan – as well as extending to its first-time intake of male workers at Yida.

Since debuting the programme in 2012, Yida has customised the syllabus to include excursions and outward bound expeditions. The factory compound has also been retrofitted with a dedicated centre where PACE participants can gather and workers visit to receive employee support services. Designated bulletin boards displaying the programme's progress and workers' coursework are also installed around the factory.

"For the company, workers empowerment initiatives help us develop talents that support our rapid business growth and increase our competitiveness," says Kenneth Lo, chairman of Crystal Group.

"On the other hand, workers' self-esteem and well-being is enhanced. Their livelihood and competency improvement would make a positive difference in social progress."

To date, female empowerment initiatives across the company have benefited 15,000 workers, equivalent to 25% of its current 60,000 employees.

Crystal Group, which had a turnover of US$1.7bn last year, produced 304m garment pieces from its 20 factories in Asia.

Its Yida subsidiary has become a role model for sustainable denim jeans production. The unit saved 60m litres of fresh water across its China operations in 2014, and produced 500,000 pairs of jeans using 100% recycled water.

Wholly owned by Crystal Apparel, a subsidiary of Crystal Group, Yida's facilities in Zhongshan and Jintan in China's Pearl River Delta make it the largest denim jeans producer in Asia, with 4,000 employees and customers including Levi Strauss, H&M, Gap, Wrangler, Lee and JC Penney.