MAS Holdings Case Study

By treating women better than its peers, MAS has a far lower turnover and scored several key projects.

Photo credit: Flickr/nyusternbhr

MAS Holdings has been treating its employees, many of whom are women, better than many of their peers in the garment industry. The result is that they see a far lower turnover and have scored several key projects as a direct result of this reputation and top quality product.

When the three Amalean brothers founded Sri Lanka’s MAS Holdings in 1987, they set out to create a world-class business – and a world-class employer. From the start, the company limited working hours and applied strict safety standards; gave employees benefits like free transport and a decent, daily breakfast; provided onsite healthcare services; and insisted managers eat in the canteen with everyone else.1

To the founders, this was not just the most ethical approach, but made better business sense too. Three decades on, the company’s performance suggests they were right. Despite the disruption of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, and the removal of trade protections provided by the Multi Fibre Arrangement (MFA), the lingerie and sportswear manufacturer is flourishing. It has annual turnover of over US$1 billion,2 employs 40,000 people3 and is the single largest supplier to Victoria’s Secret, with other major customers including Nike, Gap, Marks & Spencer and Ralph Lauren.4

In the words of former board member Sharmini Ratwatte: “Companies that attract the best people perform better.”5 And MAS has proved adept at bringing in talent and holding onto it. Staff turnover is 25% of the local industry average, while MAS’s Women Go Beyond programme is helping to keep women (who make up 90% of the company’s workforce) in work through schemes that raise awareness of the benefits and help people to balance their work and personal life.6 Out in the community, the company has supported schools and hospitals and funded scholarships in rural villages, helping to overcome initial suspicion of the factories and win local support.7

As well as helping to set new standards for ethical apparel, the company’s policies have boosted key client relationships. Marks & Spencer, for instance, selected MAS as one of two companies in south-east Asia to partner in development of a ground-breaking green manufacturing plant under the British retailer’s flagship sustainability programme Plan A. When Nike was scouting out socially and environmentally conscious suppliers in 2004, MAS was chosen as one of just eight around the world.8

Part of this success can be explained by a broadening of customer priorities beyond just price and quality to include service, design, innovation and sustainability. With a commitment to its workforce that was way ahead of the curve, the company has been able to enjoy first mover advantage as clients have come looking for suppliers with the full package.9