North American Labor Day and Business as Mission Businesses

“Observed the first Monday in September, Labor Day is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers. The holiday is rooted in the late nineteenth century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.”1

My first contact with organized labor came on my job building houses in the late 1960s housing boom in Seattle.  It seems that whenever the union representative showed up, some of us learned to make ourselves scarce. After all, we were scab labor for a very profitable construction company.  As a student, working full-time in the summer, I was not a journeyman carpenter and believed I did not belong in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters of America.

I had studied the history of the labor movement in the USA in my business classes, but for the first time I came across the tension between workers and management. Labor unions have focused on collective bargaining over wages, benefits, and working conditions. The unions represent their members in disputes with management, and sometimes promote strikes and boycotts as well as lobbying activities. In short, they attempt to give voice to the working class and protect jobs. I was a beneficiary of my local union’s efforts.  Management of course is focused on meeting deadlines, making company profits, pleasing the vice-presidents.  I was studying business management and planned on being a “boss” someday.

But it was not long before I asked the childish question, “Can’t we just get along?”  Of course, the answer lies in our Christian faith and in the nature of sin in the human heart. All of this is interesting as we think about Labor Day, but it makes me think about the contrast between some of this and some of the BAM companies I know in other countries of the world, where BAM owners and managers seek to promote the best working conditions and take the lead in developing the workers and improving their lives at home and in the company workplace.

Some years ago, I visited a boat building BAM company in Nusa Dua in Indonesia.  I took along a videographer and we told the story with some short videos.  One thing I remember vividly.  I asked several workers at random from the total of about 30 workers in the company, “How do you like working here?” I asked through a translator.  Every single one said they loved it there and they loved the boss, Rob.  I pursued it further of course, and they said they loved it because Rob treated them fairly, he provided severance when contracts were slow, he took an interest in their families and he took them on camping trips, he paid above minimum wage, and they felt respected. Today, Rob is starting another company with another IBEC coach, and we have every reason to believe it will also experience success.

Don and Terri Larson at Sunshine Nut Co. in Mozambique have fifty happy and contented employees.  Why?

  • They buy cashews at fair prices from the local Mozambican community.
  • Roasting and packaging takes place in-country to assure freshness and quality and the best tasting cashews in the world. Employees experience the commitment to excellence.
  • The company hires impoverished adults who have been abandoned and orphaned.
  • They give 90% of the profits back to the people (30% to uplift the farming communities with better education, water supply, etc.; 30% to care for the most vulnerable in the community; 30% to build new Sunshine companies in Africa).

At Eurofragance in the Philippines, people are a priority, so the company focuses on continuous learning, both in terms of career development and personal growth. Through various programs and trainings, they promote the overall wellbeing of each one at the company. Every person who is part of the EPI team is uniquely valued, as management models the message that the success of one is the success of all. Everyone is aligned together to look ahead and focus on the goal.  It is a happy place.  IBEC has been happy to be a part of this company’s success.

Nguvu Dairy in Uganda has 150 employees, many of whom were once enslaved as child soldiers or were traumatized in other ways.  Gloria, a victim of human trafficking says, “The moment I stepped inside the gates of Nguvu Dairy, I felt a sense of peace.  James (the owner) was so kind and friendly, and he taught all of us victims how to make yogurt. He was patient and encouraging.”  She continued, “Nguvu Dairy has changed my life.  I have a job and can rent a little house in town and afford school fees for my son.”

Barrington Gifts is highly valued in their city in East Asia.  They provide jobs to handicapped citizens including over twenty who are deafmute. In the factory building, they provide training and care for over one hundred special needs children; many are children of employees.  Factory management visits workers in the homes and a wholesome community environment exists because relations between management and workers is great.

Five different countries; five distinct industries; five unique owner and management teams who do not know each other; but all are united in bringing jobs, dignity and a better life while sharing the love of Jesus on the job and in the community.

Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures

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