Heather White Uses Her Business Experience to Make a Difference in Chinese Factories

Heather White is a social entrepreneur advocating for responsible supply chain practices. She is the director of New Standards, which contributes to the improvement of global working conditions through research and direct engagement strategies. In 1995, she founded Verite, a non-profit organization helping companies and other stakeholders to understand labor issues, overcome obstacles, and build sustainable solutions into their supply chains. Social Venture Network sat down with Ms. White to discuss how courage helped her break out of traditional business and make a difference.

SVN: What kind of conversation will you be participating in during Courageous Conversations, SVN’s Spring Conference?

Heather White: Raphael Bemporad of BBMG will be playing talk show host in a Courageous Conversation with me. I think for everyone it requires commitment and honesty today to speak from the heart, which may be counter to the prevailing mainstream messaging promoted by corporate interests. We’ll be speaking about a few urgent topics currently outside mainstream views about China’s economic success.

SVN: How does courage play a role in what you do?

Heather White: I am producing a video as part of a larger book project, about teenagers and young workers poisoned and injured on assembly lines overseas because of toxic chemicals and unsafe conditions. The courage is on their end, not mine.

The interviews for the book took place in hospitals where these teenagers and young people around 20 years old lay paralyzed from exposure to chemical agents used in manufacturing – from cleaning computer screens for instance. I’m grateful that they are willing to talk with me, a total stranger asking them why they are in the hospital and where they work. Sometimes they have lost a hand in the machinery and are too embarrassed or ashamed to tell their own families. Some said they were contemplating suicide because they no longer see a future for themselves. To envision a new life for themselves takes courage.

Also, the NGOs who are trying to help them are courageous, working underground and going to hospitals to serve the victims despite the tight security trying to keep them out.

SVN: How did you come to stand up for the rights of factory workers?

Heather White: I had been consulting to corporations who were expanding their operations globally as an operating strategy. Contradictions were emerging for me. While they were posting record profits, workers were suffering from malnutrition among other things. Having worked for many years as an outsourcing agent, I was able to persuade factories to let me in at a time when many of the companies had publicists making the problems go away. I felt I had to do something.

SVN: What has been your greatest challenge?

Heather White: When I first started Verite, I was sometimes exhausted from the challenges of the work, and still had a lot of daily family obligations. I had three children under the age of eleven. It was difficult at times being a wife and mother while trying to launch a global organization. Sometimes, there were too many pulls between my work and the attention I needed to give the family.

SVN: How did you encounter SVN?

Heather White: I was introduced to SVN through SVN member David Berge, and invited to a conference. At SVN, I connected with so many like-minded folks, it gave me emotional support for my work. This was at a time when I was working with people who didn’t share my values. SVN became the business environment where I felt most comfortable. I knew I had to attend every one of the conferences that I possibly could.

Register for Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, April 25-28.

Since 1987, Social Venture Network (SVN) has been the leading network of entrepreneurs and investors who are transforming the way the world does business. SVN’s Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations, will take place April 25-28 in San Diego. Visit www.svn.org for details and to register.

Interview by Martha Shaw, founder of Earth Advertising which promotes the growth of environmentally responsible businesses through brand strategy and media campaigns.

 

37 comments

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Tim C.
Tim C.3 years ago

ty

Robert O.
Robert O.3 years ago

Good for her. It makes sense to put vast experience and knowledge to good use.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance3 years ago

Social Responsibility.

I used to hear that phrase quite a lot during my banking career. Unfortunately it was, in my opinion, more lip service than anything else. In googling SVN, I found that they have a leadership training session in Sept 2013 at Hollyhock which is a well known retreat centre on Cortes Island in BC. I can tell you that Hollyhock is excellent and well suited to this kind of event. And one of the sponsors of this event is Canada's largest credit union, BC based VanCity.
http://www.hollyhock.ca/cms/svi.html

Social responsibility is so important in every field --- touching on environmental concerns, ethical sourcing, sustainability and much more. Kudos to SVN

Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck3 years ago

great, thank you.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Thank you what a great article.

Ken W.
Ken W.3 years ago

ty

Jayna Sheats
Jayna Sheats3 years ago

To Mark V.: this is a position that cell phone companies do not believe; they think that a $5 difference between the cost of their phone and their competitor is likely to make the difference as people search the Internet for the cheapest price. (The labor cost for an iPhone, for example, is actually only several dollars.) So people who want "fair trade" really need to band together to make their voices heard.

I think SVN is a wonderful organization, and people who put their effort into somehow bridging the gap between bottom-line-centric accountants and social responsibility are among the most valuable people in this human-centric endeavor. Corporations (large and small) are going to be with us for the foreseeable future; so let's figure out how to change their behavior (if we can do it with wayward adolescents, can't we do it with wayward CEOs?!!)

Thank you to Heather White and many others (Stuart Hart at www.stuartlhart.com is one of my favorites).

Tim C.
Tim C.3 years ago

ty

Irene S.
Irene S.3 years ago

Hope she sets a precedent!