In this episode the author describes the intricacies of setting up a garment factory the Gulf with most of the workers being women. The 18th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
Although Rupak was totally involved in the development and supply of various building materials, there were a few essential and fast moving items that his company always had in stock. He had a very able and dependable associate named Vijay and at the very outset Rupak made it clear that, in true sense, he had no suitable opening for a person of my experience or calibre. Yet, he didn’t want me to even talk to many others in the field, who had come to know that I was no longer associated with Ajay in terms of work. He had respect for me as I knew his father well.
The next day, Rupak picked me up en route to his nail factory in Rashidiya. While we were on the way he explained the set up there and how he had bought a defunct factory, which really was collecting rust. Rupak is a fine young man, full of energy and a great planner.
I did not take a head count, but, possibly there were 60-70 workers in the plant. Back in the office, he would know the market shortage, as the construction was still in full swing, where the nails were used in huge quantities, and he would be able to deliver the finished goods within few hours after getting the order. It was an enviable sight and he had a great staff support.
My first couple of weeks were spent in knowing what was happening; there was nothing that I really could contribute in the well-organized set up he was running. He did not want to get involved in getting another dirty item like CI pipes or fittings, as these he could command a price advantage by simply buying on cash and selling on credit to his own selected customers. So, why should he import these, when these were available locally from others?
It was at this time, unusually, I received a call from a friend, by the name of Trinath; he had called home, and my wife directed him to call the office. A brief reference to Trinath would be only fair.
A few years earlier, when I was walking down the street in Hong Kong, may be a hundred yards away, I saw someone who looked very much like an Indian. He must have been doing the same thing too; when we came to the contact point, “Are you from India?” was the question that we both asked each other! After lunch, I took him to South Sea Centre, where our office was located and Amanda was busy handling a supplier.
He explained that he was one of the leading manufacturers of ties in New Delhi, popularly known as ‘Zorex’, and he was occasionally making ties for others on contract basis. Besides, he was making shirts and exporting them, too. He was on a visit, looking for some Chinese suppliers in Hong Kong, who could meet his needs; he had the necessary import license, as he was an exporter. I immediately authorized Amanda to assist him during his stay and for the next couple of days they were able to finalize business. At the end of it, when he wanted to pay for our services, I requested him to send the commission to the company, as Amanda had really worked for it, and by doing this service, she was acquiring new knowledge on a business that we knew nothing about. After that, we exchanged a few courteous faxes, but nothing happened.
Now this Trinath was on line, asking me to visit the Jebel Ali Free Zone and find out if they were actually permitting the establishment of garment factories and more importantly, if they were giving visas for ladies to work, as staff in these units were mostly girls. He was excited about this possibility and he asked me to look into this area seriously; he said “Mr Ram, this is a profitable, long term business, work on it.”
I had been to the free zone earlier and generally knew that they were inviting investors to set up factories there, and assuring them of great support in terms of sheds, space and unlimited visas, and no condition of national’s participation. In other words, a foreigner could set up a company or manufacturing unit, without a local partner, which was compulsory outside the free zone.
I met a wonderful officer by name Saif Sultan; after discussions, he introduced me to Sheikh Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem (chairman). We had a very detailed talk after I had shown keen interest. Once I established the rapport with Saif Sultan, I took Rupak for the discussion, who, based on my talks, had alerted his contact in Sri Lanka, where there were hundreds of factories, and they had no restriction of sending women workers abroad; India had this restriction at that time and Pakistan had officially banned their women to go abroad for work.
A lot of work was done by Rupak and his friend in Colombo, who actually located a suitable partner for collaboration. They were ready to move in at short notice provided we got the industrial license and commitment to get visas for girls and make arrangements for their safe stay. We obtained the license on 16 October 1984and went into production on 7 January 1985, and had a compliment of 240 boys and girls in the plant.
It was my first experience in dealing with such a large number of people whose language was foreign to me; we had only a couple of guys, a manager like Donald who could communicate, as we began to work at the factory site, which was part of a huge warehouse. I was processing visas on one hand and on the other, co-ordinating with the electrical contractor for the factory lay out plan; ordering for stools, cutting tables and other related items. It was hectic and long hours of work, with the initial A team we had received, whose job was to fix the sewing machines (which had been received on a CKD basis); matters relating to finance, on L/C opening for machinery and raw materials and co-ordinating with the Sri Lankan counterpart were ably done by Rupak himself.
I think a week or ten days after the electrical work had began, I got a call from the contractor that William McFadden, the engineer from the free zone had come and stopped the work and ordered people to leave the shed, as we had not obtained an approval of the layout plan for the factory from his office. While this was true, I had no idea that we had to get permission from him before commencing work at the site. I rushed back to chief engineer Brown, presented my sob story of being ignorant and sought his assistance. He gave me 48 hours to submit the drawings, which I managed to do, and our work was completed smoothly.
If I remember correctly, the work staff arrived on 4th and 5th January in two lots and our actual production started on 7 January 1985.
William McFadden was not going to be easy on us, because we had gone over his head to his superiors; so a couple of months later, raised to issue of air- conditioning the plant, because the heat would be unbearable by May. This shed was also shared by three other garment manufacturers and, in the initial stages everyone was simply minding his own business and not communicating with each other. We incurred additional expenses on this but work did not stop.
Production and exports from Gulf Industries began in right earnest; we had our own ups and downs; there were regular visits from our Sri Lankan associates and their Inbaraj was a popular figure when he visited the plant. There was no dearth of orders; and I began my quest for getting space on Air India to carry our cargo once in a while at least, but they were overbooked at Bombay stage itself.
We arranged for a fortnightly visit for site-seeing and market visit; medical facilities were readily made available and by the time we closed the factory and delivered the whole female staff to their camp, it was generally around 9.30pm almost every night. My days were 12 working hours every day, and even on Fridays, our staff worked for half a day, and the other half was spent for their personal marketing.
This was the time I developed the desire to learn the trade a little more, picked up a bit of Sinhala language, their customs and realised how close they were to our own people in India.
A few months after our successful launching of the garment factory, Rupak began his quest for shifting the nail factory from Rashidiya to the Jebel Ali Free Zone. We began our discussions with Saif, who was kind to show us around many sheds. Eventually we chose one that would be suitable to our needs and we had to get help from the free zone for getting the labour licenses for all the staff that was in Rashidiya. We provided all the necessary available documents and the transfer of the plant and the staff took place over a couple of months, as these came section by section, and we did not want to disrupt our supplies to the market.
We needed a qualified and experienced technical hand in running this new operation smoothly. With the help Venkatraman, manager of EEPC at Nairobi, we were able to get my former colleague’s son, Agrahari, who was running a nail factory there, to join us in Dubai. The nail factory became a great money-spinner for Rupak, the enterprising young man with a far-reaching vision.
The manufacturers in the free zone, began to get to know each other, as their numbers increased; Palmon had mostly staff from Philippines; most other female staff members came from Sri Lanka while some factories had men only, but in the end the overall population of garment workers was increasing, thanks to the great support that chairman Sheikh Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem was extending for its growth.
I had a two-year contract and this was due to expire shortly and I had many proposals from known businessmen who wanted me to join on a profit sharing basis. It was at this time I also found that some changes in the management were on the anvil. It was time for me to leave and fend for myself with a working partner who was willing to give me a freer hand than what I was experiencing. After a chat with the owner, I decided to call it a day.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
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The Chinese official PMI climbed to 53.1 in March, reaching its best level in 12 months. In contrast, a report from HSBC/Markit put the index at 48.3 for March, the fifth straight month of decline. To control information from the microbloggers Chinese authorities have warned 3117 websites, punished 70 Internet companies, arrested 1,065 people and deleted 208,000 harmful messages
I was reading two stories recently. They were positioned right next to each other. Both stories were about China. One was about a specific data point issued by the Chinese government—the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for March. The other story was about a crackdown in China on microblog websites. The microblogs were shut down allegedly for spreading rumours about the purge of Bo Xilai, the controversial party secretary of Chongqing. Most investors, economists and analysts would dismiss any connection between economic information and political gossip. They would be wrong, because both stories were about something crucial to markets: information.
The PMI data was not interesting because it went higher or lower than the previous reading. It was interesting because the official information disagreed with information collected and analyzed by a private firm. Of course, the discrepancy was often ignored. Many analysts not only assumed that the information was correct, they went happily on to assume that it actually meant something. Some of the more cautious tried to explain it. The truly analytical tried to correlate and justify the two readings to prove that there was some logic in the differences.
The official PMI improved reaching its best level in 12 months. It climbed to 53.1 in March from 51.0 in February according to the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, which issues the data along with the National Bureau of Statistics. Above 50 is supposed to be an indication that the economy is expanding. In contrast, a final report from banking group HSBC and the London financial services consultants—Markit—put the index at 48.3 for March, down from 49.6 in February, the fifth straight month of readings below 50.
Some analysts cheered the results. They simply ignored the private number and used the official number as an indication that the Chinese economy was clearly growing again. The much anticipated soft landing had been achieved. Even if we accept this analysis, one wonders if a growing Chinese economy might also grow more inflation especially since both food and energy prices remain quite high.
Other analysts had a more technical explanation. In past years the March data has shown a big upward bounce due to momentum from the Chinese New Year, which falls in January or February. However, this take on the data is not especially optimistic, because the average rise is over 3% well above this year’s numbers. If the HSBC/Markit numbers are correct then there really is trouble. Any landing won’t be soft.
Analysts also tried to explain away the differences. The private survey was supposed to be inaccurate because it covered small companies in the export business, while the government survey was distorted because of inadequate seasonal adjustment.
The reality is probably simpler. The government or at least their sources have a very strong incentive to publish optimistic figures, the private survey does not. There is reason to be suspicious. The private survey covered 430 companies with a 70% participation rate. The official survey covered 820 companies and their response rate was a perfect 100%. Also, while the Markit methodology is transparent, the government’s is not. The reality is that no one knows exactly what goes into the government survey and the government sees no reason to tell.
Even if we assume that the government is trying to paint an accurate picture, there is no reason to assume that their sources are. According to author and Wall Street Journal correspondent, Tom Orlik, one of the problems is a “recalcitrant sample set”. In short the statisticians are not lying, but the companies reporting to them are.
This is hardly surprising. The veracity of Chinese companies reports are supposed to be guaranteed by their association with international auditing firms. Of course, when the auditing firms discovered that the companies’ books had often been cooked, they resigned. For example, in the past year Deloitte alone has dumped Boshiwa, Longtop and Daquing. The problem is probably going to get worse as the annual reports come due on 30th April.
Other reports from China are also suspect. A US consultancy determined last year that the Chinese under-report steel production of 45 million tonnes about the same as Germany’s total production. The under-reporting was due to the government’s demand to curb production.
Controlling information is the dream of every politician and CEO. The difference is that the Chinese can do it. To control the information from the microbloggers they have warned 3117 websites, punished 70 Internet companies, arrested 1,065 people and deleted 208,000 harmful messages.
The fact that a government’s attempt to control information creates bad information for both the government and everyone else is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the fact that Wall Street’s economists, analysts and pundits actually give it credence. The Chinese are only acting according to their perceived economic incentives. The motivation of investors is less clear.
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages. Mr Gamble can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected]).
If public transport system is not catering to the needs of disabled, their livelihood is being denied. It is of utmost importance that the Disability Act 1995 is implemented in letter and spirit
As a follow up to “Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995”, Government of India through Central Public Works Department (CPWD) as well as Indian Railways through Research Designs Standards Organisation (RDSO) independently prepared guidelines to make their respective built environment accessible to Persons with Disability (PwD) i.e. make them barrier free. This was done in 1998. The CPWD’s 85 page guidelines are more comprehensive than the RDSO Guidelines of 24 pages. In the US, 257 pages design standards emerged as a follow-up to the American Disability Act 1990, revised as recently as 2010 and in 2007, United Nations brought out its 31 Chapters long guidelines, which at present are undergoing revision.
It needs to be emphasized that these are only guidelines. Ultimately, detail pertaining to specific local conditions will determine how best the built environment is made barrier free.
There is one more document that needs to be followed which actually determines the engineering of Railway operations. This is the Indian Railways Schedule of Dimensions (IR-SOD). The IR-SOD first came about in 1913 and has been undergoing revisions over the years to meet technological changes as well as to manage with transitional requirements. The latest revision was made in 2004 and will be referred to herein as IR-SOD2004. This, however, does not include certain dimensions that need to go along with the “new age” rakes being used on Mumbai suburban section. It is also recognized at the outset that, although most railway station infrastructure, especially related to passenger platform, are for exclusively for the suburban services, some platforms do cater to the non-suburban passenger services as well. Imposition of specifications of infrastructure for non-suburban passenger services onto the exclusively suburban passenger services needs to be relooked by the concerned authorities like RDSO and the Railway Board as these are causing hardship to nearly 75 lakh daily commuters of Mumbai suburban Railway system.
If Indian Railways is to be Barrier Free i.e. Accessible to PwD, the details to be followed should be, to begin with, the Railway Guidelines. However, it should adopt those practices which will provide practical solutions as suggested in the CPWD, ADA or the UN Guidelines or even innovate and get RDSO to confirm its workability. One such innovation in this regard is to relocate the compartment for PwD in the train formation. The other being the manner of raising platform level to minimize mainly the wide vertical and also the horizontal gaps presently seen at most stations.
Let us understand that what is relevant here is safe mobility for all, specifically to PwD. For a visually impaired person, guiding blocks of tactile tiles laid appropriately is very useful. The “raised bar” or “corduroy” type for guiding direction of movement and “raised truncated hemispheres” type which acts as warning of a change, hence acts as stop and proceed sign. These “directional tiles” and the “warning tiles” need to be laid to a plan with considerable thought behind it and not left even to a site engineer or to the tile layer as very often happen. One also should not use one type of tile for the other as has been observed.
RDSO specified location of providing “minimum 460 mm of guiding floor material at the edge” on Railway station platforms need to be corrected. While it is acceptable to specifically provide better non-skid tiles at the edge, it is outright dangerous to provide it as guiding floor as the suburban local services as well as non-suburban trains will practically be touching anyone on this edge strip, considering that passengers are not always within the compartments of even the non-suburban train services. With overcrowded coaches and commuters overhanging from doors in the suburban sections, it will definitely be very accident prone.
Even the CPWD specification giving 800 mm edge margin is not good with such overhanging commuters although persons standing just beyond the edge margin may just about be missing meeting with accidents.
Railways have been painting or laying a strip of tiles with contrasting colour to warn commuters of dangers of standing in the edge band of the platform, but this warning strip is not recognizable to the visually impaired commuter.
In addition to providing warning strip with “warning tactile tiles” at say 1000 mm from the edge, the right location of guiding “directional tactile tiles” would be along a path adjoining the staircases, leading visually impaired persons to the “waiting spot for PwD” where the compartment meant for PwD halts. Providing such a guiding row of tiles will also make other commuters get into habit of leaving the path unobstructed as far as possible, even during peak crowd.
The compartment meant for PwD currently have been placed adjoining the First Class compartment where relatively fewer crowd is expected. It is also found that the platform space available at these locations invariably narrow down, as these is where the staircases are located. Peak time crowd is not easily negotiable either. Being right there where the crowd is, normal commuters also throng into these compartments and deny most times the PwD access into these compartments and then their rightful seat.
Therefore, it is suggested that these be relocated to the extreme ends, just behind the Motorman’s cabin and in front of Guard Cabin. By doing so, boarding and alighting crowds from the currently neighbouring coaches will be absent, reducing danger and discomfort to them. By doing this, safe passage gets provided to PwD to reach the spot on the platform where the only set of commuters will be PwD, elderly, pregnant women, family with children, the infirm and those with temporary disability and those with arthritic ailments, eliminating most other crowd.
It is recognized that the passage to the waiting spot for PwD will be long and somewhat difficult to negotiate the peak period crowd, but this can be minimized by properly guiding the PwD right from the Foot Over Bridge (FOB).
The current location also brings in the possibility of the doorway of the compartment for the PwD not always halting in front of where the PwD currently wait for the train. Worse situation arises when the gap between two coaches meant for the buffers and couplings come right in front of this spot.
The suggested location not only addresses this problem but boarding and alighting will be under direct observation, but not responsibility, of the motorman or the guard, thereby unauthorized commuters entering these compartments would be under psychological control. Also, the guard and motorman will be able to get the train moving only when the PwD have fully and safely alighted or boarded the coach.
If medical first aid is provided to a victim of an accident within the ‘golden hour’, there is very good chance of saving victim’s life. A scheme has been proposed, if implemented, this medical first aid can be reached to the victim of an accident on the Mumbai Suburban Railway System within three minutes. Nearly 4000 fatalities occur on the suburban railway system annually.
For this scheme, a paramedic and a helper and their kit comprising of stretcher, a ladder and paramedic box need to be housed on every train. They can be accommodated in this compartment meant for PwD. The paramedic and the helper would ordinarily help the persons with disability and the elders to board and alight from the train. This help is needed mainly because the level of the coach floor many times is as high as 585 mm (~23”) from the platform level; most times it is 300 mm to 400 mm (12” to 16”) although there are many cases where the level difference is as low as 100 mm (4”). Until the accidents reduce and level differences are minimized or eliminated, the need for having the paramedic and the helper will remain. Locating the compartment at the extremity of the 12 coach trains would prove to be very useful, although there would be stray platforms where platforms become quite narrow towards the ends. But then, with only PwD, the number of commuters there would also be very much less than what is seen now.
In the second and concluding part, we will see the issue of large level differences between the coach floor levels and Platform levels and how it can be tackled.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He is member of the Committee Constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the Suburban Railways System Friendly towards Persons with Disability. While he has been an active campaigner against noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. Mr Badami can be contacted at [email protected])