Fashion with a Conscience

 

Marcus Chung, MBA 04

Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Talbots, Hingham, Mass.

 

Every garment tells a story, says Marcus Chung, director of corporate social responsibility at Talbots, the women's clothing retailer.

 

Take a black plaid wool blazer lined with pale pink silk, which Chung plucked from a rack in Talbots' Boston flagship store one chilly afternoon.

 

"This jacket was made in Jordan. A woman probably made it —70 to 80 percent of all factory workers are women," Chung says. "That's a big deal in Jordan because it's only recently that women began to enter the workforce. She probably left school at a very young age, has a low level of literacy, and lacks basic numeracy."

 

Chung aims to improve the plight of this factory worker, and countless others like her.

 

Chung joined Talbots in 2010 with a mandate to build a monitoring program to ensure that the 200 factories worldwide that Talbots contracts with pay fair wages and maintain safe working conditions. But Chung had bigger ambitions: to transform the 65-year-old company into a corporate social responsibility leader.

 

"My goal was to apply the Talbots brand— which stands for women's opportunity and empowerment— to our supply chain," says Chung, who's held similar positions at Gap and McKesson.

 

Today Chung spearheads the company's investments in education, health, and the job skills of workers who make clothes for Talbots. The company has partnered with nonprofits to provide career training for women in Jordan and to deliver women's health education programs in several Asian countries.

 

Evidence suggests investments reduce absenteeism and turnover, resulting in big productivity gains, and improve quality, worker-manager relations, and recruitment, Chung notes. "Investment in these communities— investment in women—helps deliver better operational performance and supports our brand," says Chung, "but ultimately it's also about improving lives."

 

 

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