The German textile company Van Laack was founded in 1881. For 15 years now, it has had a plant in Vietnam where over 500 of its 1,600 employees are based.
Female employees at the van Laack plant in Vietnam
“The only problem with our product is that they get addicted to it. That’s the only disadvantage,“ says Christian von Daniels as he feels a silk blouse, letting the fabric pass through his fingers.
The CEO of van Laack is standing in one of the textile firm’s production halls outside of Hanoi. Some hundred employees sit in rows at their sewing machines. They cut fabric, sew on buttons.
The employees are concentrated. Some of them look up as the CEO walks by but most focus on their work.
The best on the market
Christian von Daniels walks towards a clothes-stand. “This is where we make the so-called hand-made shirts. Most of the front part is made by hand -- the seams and also the button-holes. This is, so-to-speak, the best that one can get on the shirt market.”
Such a shirt costs between 180 and 250 euros depending on the material. Made in Vietnam luxury goods by van Laack -- a success story with tradition. The Vietnam factory makes about 600,000 shirts and blouses a year, which are then sold all over the world.
Van Laack was the first to launch a German-Vietnamese joint venture when it opened a factory in cooperation with a local state partner back in 1993 when the US economic embargo was still in place. Five years ago, the factory became a full-fledged van Laack subsidiary.
90 percent of employees are women
Two massive production halls form the heart of the factory. Workspace after workspace, row after row. Van Laack Vietnam employs 515 people -- 90 percent are women. This includes the management positions. The top two managers are women.
The vice-CEO, Mrs Hang, studied in the former East Germany and has been with the company since the beginning of its Vietnam days: “I think we are very free here. Of course, we have lots of support from Germany. The results and quality are very good so we’re very happy here.”
The company only employs trained staff in order to guarantee international quality standards. Van Laack trains people itself. It has trained up some 350 apprentices in the past three years.
Van Laack pays well over the minimum
Von Daniels says many people would die for a job at van Laack: “On average, we pay 70 to 80 percent more than the minimum wage -- we pay about 120 dollars. These days one has to pay more for good employees, if one wants to keep fluctuation low.”
120 US dollars a month for a 48-hour week? Critics say that the firm is exploiting cheap labour at the detriment of the German workforce. But von Daniels rejects these allegations, saying that Van Laack has also created jobs in Germany and that the company’s impressive annual growth is thanks to its global operations.
He is proud of the good treatment Van Laack workers get in Hanoi -- they receive free food and have access to a bus service.
Children don’t work only play
But the best thing is the kindergarten says von Daniels: “There are no children working here. The employees leave their children here to play.“
About 40 children aged between one and three play at the kindergarten every day while their mothers work at the machines.
The working conditions may be luxurious by Vietnamese standards but observers still point out the discrepancies between the price of a hand-made Van Laack shirt and the monthly wage a Van Laack employee gets.