FOREWARD - Putting all joking aside. This is not our first factory trip to Pakistan. We know what to expect, in terms of the road users, the food, the people, and the culture. The people are great, the food is amazing, their capability is great... the drivers are not so great. The following is in no way intended to be offensive. It's a personal account of events during a 2 week trip. A trip with 3 main objectives:
In pursuit of safe and ethical product manufacturing, we've put our lives on the line (and the normal function of our bowels) to navigate Pakistan's road network, and inspect the manufacturing facilities that the country has to offer.
Urobach has always cared about where our products come from, and for the welfare of the people involved with their production. Now with the major launch happening in 2018, and our promise to support our people and our planet, we decided it was again, time to go and see for ourselves.
Urobach is committed to supporting our people and our planet (you'll hear this a lot). So in 2018 we've made a few bold promises. These include:
All of the statistics in the world don't do much to kerb my fear of flying. There's something rather unnatural about sitting in a bolted together bit of metal, surround by highly flammable aviation fuel, with several giant flame producing jets, 35,000ft in the air (10,000m to please our metric friends), and travelling at 500mph (750km/h ish). Anyway... enough said.
I felt safe in the knowledge that the meditation app that i have in my phone, HeadSpace, has an audio bit to help with flying. This trip was planned like a military operation. The only thing that was not testing was the stress releaving audio book. I decided to test it at 35,000 feet, travelling at 500mph, etc etc, only to discover that the part of the app that relates to flying needs to downloaded (with the use of an internet signal) first. GREAT!!
20 hours after leaving Sydney, we arrived at our destination at midnight, local time. A quick wrestle through the crowds, immigartion, and more xray machines, we made it outside to be collected by our guide, Mahbood.
The next three hours could be compared to a damaged rollercoaster ride. A non-stop, action packed white knuckle ride, with flashing lights, and sirens. Mahboob seemed in complete control as he casually meandered across all of the lanes (his preference was to sit on the white line), frantically flashing his lights at oncoming traffic, and beeping his piddly horn. At one point, he even managed to drive the wrong way around a roundabout to ask police for directions.
We made it to the destination in one piece without too many incidents. We narrowly missed only 3000 cars, 2000 trucks, 5000 motorbikes, 10 people, 4 dogs, 2 cows, and 1 donkey.
Now at the hotel, at 3.00 a.m it was time for some overdue sleep... but as 3.00 a.m coincided with Australian lunch time, my chances of getting to sleep were slim. Fortunatley i did manage to get 35 seconds sleep before hitting the gym for quick session to some of Bollywood's finest banging tunes (which were surprisingly motivating)
After the gym, we snagged a quick curry for brekky, before getting ready for our first factory visit.
After curry for breakfast, it was time for quick shower and to prepare for the day ahead. We've shelled out $60 a night on the accommodation. Who would of though that included in with the price would be a bar of real Tibetan floral beauty soap that claims to be able to make the user 'look lovely'.
For our $60, we dont only get real Tibetan floral beauty soap, we get a geriatric armed security guard called Achmed, who looks like he was around when the British Raj was formed in 1858, AND we get an ironing board that is too long... or an iron with a lead that is too short. It's also too short, or i'm too tall.
So now, we're looking lovely. Clothing is creased, but at least we have lovely look. It's 9.00 and we're off to our first factory...not before Mahboob insisted on taking us for brunch, which consisted of curry.
The first factory visit was to potential new supplier. As always they're most interested in showing you the products, but that's not the main reason that we're here. Our first request was for a full tour of the factory which consisted of 5 main areas. Offices, welfare areas, materials stores, pattern/cutting room, and production. All of which was to a high standard.
Then onto product inspection and development discussions. All of which went well.
This particular factory had a committed team, that came across more as a family, than a bunch of employees. Their management structure was adequate and demonstrated, extensive quality control procedures.
So far, so good after day 2. Our first factory visit appears to be a success, and we look forward to assessing this factory and the opportunity further.
By now jet lag was kicking in so it was time to head back to the hotel... not before Mahboob insisted on taking us for lunch... which, you guessed it, consisting of curry. Very nice curry.
The drive was as exciting as ever. Narrowly missing an open man hole in the road, more donkeys, and some random crash barriers. Mahboob's excellent ability to navigate the hazards, got us back to the hotel in one piece, and back to our trusted geriatric gunman, Achmed.
As I write this Part 2, It is now day number 6 of a 2 week trip. I have now lost the normal function of my bowels, and I’m less enthusiastic than when I wrote Part 1. The trip so far, has been very valuable. Hard work, but valuable. 3 factories have passed our assessment, but many have not. Some of the working conditions that we have witnessed have been sickening, this combined with actual sickness, AND jet lag, has all left me feeling pretty blurghhh
On the plus side, after kissing many frogs (that might also have something to do with the sickness), the factories that passed our assessments are already supporting employees’ families, and educations, and we have already begun discussions as to how Urobach can support this.
I mentioned that kissing frogs, might have something to do with the sickness. I need to add to that, that a counterfeit bottle of Johnnie Walker might also have something to do with it.
Anyway… that’s enough moaning. Let me pick up where I left off in Part 1
On day three, I managed to get a great lie in bed. I looked at my watch it was 9.00 a.m. WOW I thought, until I realised it was 3.00 a.m. Thanks jet lag.
Despite having 14 days here, my schedule is full, so I got cracking with some product development stuff. I whacked Part 1 of this article of the website, before heading to the gym for my fix of Bollywood’s bangers.
The gym door was open, but no lights were on. I had a quick squiz for the light switches, but then decided I was not brave enough to touch the electric, for fear of me becoming the light bulb.
It’s now 6.30, I’ve been up for 3 ½ hours so decided it was time to have breakfast. The restaurant has a wide selection of food from around the world. Choices include; yellow curry, red bean curry, Quorma, green looking curry, veggie curry, and boiled eggs. I wasn’t in the mood for boiled eggs, so curry it was.
I had another quick fight with the iron and ironing board combo, a blast with the real Tibetan Floral Beauty Soap, and then onto my first meeting. I’m yet to reap the results of the Tibetan floral beauty soap. It must take a while to kick in.
Today is Sunday and I only have 2 appointments booked in. The first collected me from the hotel, and insisted on food. At this stage, I was still bright eyed and bushy tailed so I opted for authentic local food. CRIKEY! Authentic I got!
My host, Zeeher, is now a citizen of USA and spends much of the year there, but he’s still very passionate about Pakistan and his roots. Our eating establishment had been there his entire life, and was his ‘go to’ place whenever he arrived back from USA. The food was very good and the locals were super happy and friendly. The dining area needed a little work though.
As it’s Sunday, Zeeher’s factory is not open so he showed me around the area. We visited his childhood stomping ground were we bumped into some of his cricket team who were off to a game. When I asked “will you win?”, they laughed and replied “no. we’re rubbish we never win”. Zaheer laughed and said "he looses so much, he even lost his front tooth last time" (which he had actually lost).
We grabbed a coffee and chatted about all sorts of stuff; business, the environment, the local workers, shoe bombers, diets, global media, and the difference between Shiites and Sunnies.
We had a wonder past one of his factories. When I asked to have a look around, he replied “I do not have a key”, which I though was strange.
There’s an old trick in Pakistan where they take you to someone elses nice clean, safe factory, and claim it to be theirs. Then when you’re not looking, your products are produced in a sweatshop around the corner.
I was beginning to smell something fishy.
Zeeher took me to his home, and guess what? He does not have a key. By now, the situation reeked of scam. Inside the home I met his mother and children, all of which were lovely. I also met his brother… who did not know where the light switch was in his home.
My sharp eye and quick thinking convinced me that this whole situation was a setup, and that I’d know for certain after the factory inspection.
I was taken back to back to the hotel, now suffering the effects of jet lag, I had to have a coffee. I did ask for coffee, but what I received was more like pharmaceutical grade amphetamine (I assume) paste, and worked wonders on my jet lag. It didn’t work so well on my anxiety level though.
Factory # 2 this day tried to pull the same trick. Taking me to a factory with a different name on the entrance gate. Little did Factory # 2 know, is that despite my look, I can actually read.
After a quick tour, and some very direct questioning, I quickly crossed this factory off my list and headed back to the hotel.
Today is new years eve and Facebook was awash with posts of everyone’s celebrations. I headed down to lobby to find out where I could get a whiskey and much to my dismay I discovered that "alcohol is prohibited sir”. DID HE JUST SAY WHAT I THINK HE DID? He did. And I was already aware that alcohol was banned, but I had assumed/hoped that as I’d paid 60 bucks for the hotel, they might have some special dispensation. But they did not.
Back upstairs for more development stuff, more curry, couple of black market Whatsapp messages, and Voilà! Bottle of Johnnie Walker gets delivered to my room. Well. The label said Johnnie Walker. My tastebuds said different. Beggars can’t be choosers
I’m going to speed up the writing of the next several days. My trip is all about ethical production, and quality. I’ll update you with all of that once my trip is complete.
Day 4 started with Zeeher’s factory. The one that reeked of scam.
Actually, day 4 started with the ironing board. A Facebook post from Mr Wann suggested that if I turned around the ironing board, the chord would reach the end. WHAT? With my degree in Civil Engineering, surely this could not be the case. How didn’t I notice that? I’m going to put it down to the jetlag.
Another quick whack of the real Tibetan Floral Beauty Soap, then I was out the door to Zeeher’s factory.
It turns out that I was wrong about Zeeher’s factories. His factories (both of them) were very good. His products are amazing, his teams & structure, and his awareness of safety. I was great to see and reassuring.
He’s so passionate about Pakistan and its people. We spoke about Zakat (charity), infrastructure in the area, and education. Everything that Urobach was aiming for, he’s already doing. Product discussions went well and discussion began with regards to how Urobach can contribute to the lives of the employees and families.
Day 4, 5, and 6 consisted of good factory, bad factory, tea, curry, bad factory, dreadful factory, excellent factory, curry, tea, tea, tea, curry, bad factory, the worlds worst factory, and then BANG!!
BANG. I lost the normal function of bowels. Without notice, it was gone. I had to cut my inspection short and head back to the hotel. As we all know, our wives know everything. Thankfully. My wife insisted that I pack warm stuff. I didn’t, and it’s bloody freezing here. She also prompted me to pack some medication. Thank you darling. I am very grateful for that. Several hours later I emerged from the hotel and was able to continue my inspections.
The rest of Day 6 involved one excellent factory, pizza, one horrendous factory, a 5km run to Bollywood’s Bangers, and a burger.
On the evening of day 6, I realised that the toilet has its very own phone. In all my years, I’ve never seen a phone next to a toilet. I know exactly why it’s there though. If I’d found it this morning, I’d of rang 911, 999, 000, and every other number that might have been able to send help.
I must reiterate how happy and kind these people are. To me, life seems tough here. I cannot sugar coat it. It’s rough, long hours, small pay, poor services, etc, etc. But the people are so happy and so friendly. So far, I have been gifted, 4 bowls of fruit, a bunch of flowers (which I re-gifted to an old woman carrying a wardrobe down the street), a pair of karate shoes, and a bottle of counterfeit Johnnie Walker.
There’s a dude in the hotel named Rawal. The guy’s the nightshift waiter. Super happy and friendly. I was talking to him the other day during breakfast. I asked, “does he ever work days”? To which he replied, “yes I work everyday”. I was a bit confused. I thought it was a break down in communication, but it turns out that the guy works 12 hours every night, then works 8 hours elsewhere, then sleeps, then repeats. He does get 3 days off each month, which he makes the most of by travelling out of town to look after his sick father. WTF?!?! I’ll try to remember this when I’m getting bummed out with my situation.
That’s enough for part 2.
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