Published in Partnership with Forbes.com.
In a recent interview with Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Macy’s, Inc., Rahim Kanani asked about the company’s social impact philosophy, their partnerships with local artisans in Rwanda, Haiti, Nepal and India, business in the 21st century, and much more.
Macy’s, Inc. is one of the nation’s premier retailers, with fiscal 2011 sales of $26.4 billion. The company operates the Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s brands with about 840 department stores in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, and the macys.com and bloomingdales.com websites. The company also operates seven Bloomingdale’s Outlet stores.
- Last year, Macy’s began offering rugs that have been certified by GoodWeave™, an international nonprofit organization that works to ensure rugs made by hand in Nepal and India are free of child labor.
- Macy’s has a long history of partnering with global artisan communities, and we currently carry products made by master artisans from Rwanda and Haiti through our trade-not-aid Rwanda Path to Peace and Heart of Haiti programs.
- Macy’s has a rare platform to really influence change. A strong commitment to doing good socially and environmentally helps recruit, retain and motivate employees, as well as enhances corporate performance and fosters a meaningful connection to our communities and our customers.
Rahim Kanani: How would you describe the philosophy behind Macy’s efforts to be socially responsible?
Terry Lundgren: At Macy’s Inc., we believe that social responsibility is good business practice and the right thing to do for future generations. We know that stronger communities provide better environments for our stores to do business and for our employees and customers to live and work. We also understand that our customers want to know that the company they’re doing business with is responsible locally, nationally and globally; therefore, in addition to being active in our local communities, we recognize our ability to create change on a larger scale, especially within the climate of today’s global economy.
Our retail platform provides a unique opportunity to offer our customers products that emphasize international social responsibility. Last year, we began offering rugs that have been certified by GoodWeave™, an international nonprofit organization that works to ensure rugs made by hand in Nepal and India are free of child labor. We also offer exclusive merchandising initiatives such as our Rwanda Path to Peace product, which includes baskets hand made by Rwandan weavers who survived the country’s civil war and genocide, and Heart of Haiti decorative items made by artisans struggling to recover from the tragic earthquake of 2010. I have personally had the opportunity to visit Rwanda and Haiti to meet the artisans, and been able to see firsthand how the product we sell at Macy’s significantly and positively impacts their lives. These various initiatives allow Macy’s to call attention to global issues and provide our customers a way to support communities in crisis abroad.
Rahim Kanani: Do you believe the very definition of business in the 21st century is evolving to include the integration of social and environmental concerns and impacts?
Terry Lundgren: I think increased concern for responsibility in business is important, as do our customers. We at Macy’s, Inc. pride ourselves on being part of a company that operates with integrity, makes good choices and does the right thing in every part of our business. This includes a wide range of subjects, including environmental sustainability, product sourcing, consumer choice, community support, diversity and inclusion, employment and corporate governance.
Rahim Kanani: Currently, Macy’s has merchandise arrangements with local artisans in Rwanda, Haiti, Nepal and India. How did these initiatives come about?
Terry Lundgren: Macy’s has a long history of partnering with global artisan communities, and we currently carry products made by master artisans from Rwanda and Haiti through our trade-not-aid Rwanda Path to Peace and Heart of Haiti programs.
Introduced in 2005, the Rwanda Path to Peace program was created to provide a viable and sustainable business opportunity for thousands of survivors of the country’s 1994 civil war and genocide. In 2002, Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and Willa Shalit, a businesswoman and UNIFEM supporter, began working with the Rwandan government and the association of genocide widows to develop a program inspired by the traditional colorful and symbolic baskets and bowls hand-woven by the Rwandan women. After partnering with Macy’s, the Rwanda Path to Peace program was established, creating a new market for these unique works of art as we offered them in select stores and macys.com.
Then in May 2010, the William J. Clinton Foundation called American businesses to action, urging them to respond to Haiti’s shattered economy in the wake of the country’s devastating January 2010 earthquake. Macy’s was among the first to act by launching our Heart of Haiti program that October, bringing traditional Haitian artisan home décor products like textiles, metalwork and housewares to our stores and macys.com. In 2011, we expanded the product assortment to include original paintings and sustainable horn, bone and wood items that utilize some of the country’s few raw materials.
Rahim Kanani: To date, what has been the impact of these efforts?
Terry Lundgren: Focusing on trade, not aid, the export and sale of Rwanda Path to Peace and Heart of Haiti items puts real, sustainable income directly into the hands of the artisans. This income has visibly changed the lives of the artisans in remarkable ways by providing food, shelter, medical care, education and other necessities, while also imparting a great sense of pride and self-esteem.
Now in its seventh year, the relationship between Macy’s and the Rwandan weavers remains an enduring partnership and has dramatically changed the lives of many Rwandans. Today, the Path to Peace project is larger than ever, employing more than 2,500 weavers across Rwanda, including women from different backgrounds working side-by-side. From public health initiatives and HIV/AIDS care, to the spirit of hope and reconciliation fostered by the weavers, the impact of the project is no longer measured by individual weavers, but by whole communities.
The Heart of Haiti program currently provides employment and revenue to 450 artisans countrywide, allowing them to support their families. This source for earning and pride during a very challenging time has resulted in a significant increase of sustained employment and creation of new jobs in the artisan sector. As the result of increased employment, especially among women, the standard of living has started to improve in local communities.
Rahim Kanani: What have these initiatives taught you about international development and foreign aid?
Terry Lundgren: As a key partner in these global programs, we worked closely to collaborate on meaningful products with a focus on providing a sustainable economic model. By collaborating and advising on merchandise that would be in high demand, we have created a much-needed, ongoing source of revenue for these artisans and their communities.
Rahim Kanani: Is doing good, good for business?
Terry Lundgren: We always believe in doing right by the communities we serve and have an obligation to act as a force for good. In fact, our corporation’s 2011 give back efforts helped to donate more than $60 million to nonprofit organizations.
Macy’s has a rare platform to really influence change. A strong commitment to doing good socially and environmentally helps recruit, retain and motivate employees, as well as enhances corporate performance and fosters a meaningful connection to our communities and our customers.
Rahim Kanani: What’s next on the horizon for Macy’s social impact work?
Terry Lundgren: The impact that the Rwanda Path to Peace and Heart of Haiti programs has on the participating artisans is significant, and the stories behind the products are truly inspiring. While we are able to share a bit of the background of the initiatives with our customers through dedicated brand shops on macys.com, we wanted to find a way to share the artisans’ personal stories. This summer, we announced that we would begin to feature personal stories from participating artisans on mBLOG, Macy’s online editorial destination. Our first story came from Janet Nkubana, winner of the 2008 Africa Prize for Leadership, who wrote about her experience of growing up in a refugee camp in Uganda before returning to Rwanda where she began to work with the Path to Peace program.