Social Justice And The Supply Chain

eyeSlices® is an award-winning company that has been recognised as a Top Technology 100 company in South Africa. Much of its success can be owed to Kerryne Krause’s perseverance, resourcefulness and determination to overcome a multitude of obstacles in the advanced manufacturing and technology space. Kerryne has bootstrapped, failed forward and is now navigating a multinational brand. This is a summary of her interview with Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda.

 

“My passion is people. I love people,” says Kerryne Krause, Chief Excitement Officer (yes, you read that correctly) of eyeSlices® Innovation Technologies. “You cannot say that you love God, and not love people.”

Describing their business as “a community with a conscience” Kerryne explains that eyeSlices® spans the entire supply chain – from research and development, to manufacturing and packaging, from sales and marketing, to retail and exports. Their globally unique Cryogel derma-delivery system can incorporate various ingredients, and has now found application in the cosmetic, medical and veterinary industries, including treatment for burns and wounds.

Talking about how Christians in business can make a tangible contribution to the social justice landscape in South Africa, Kerryne comments that, “Obviously, linking the supply chain to social justice is not a new idea, nor is it limited to Christian businesspeople. For example, the global retail sector is putting more and more pressure on brands to audit their supply chains regarding issues such as child labour, minimum wages, mistreatment of minorities, environmental consciousness, and so on.”

Is redemptive business any different from ethical business?

So how does the biblical perspective add to this conversation? Or, to put it another way, how does redemptive engagement by Christians in business look any different from what ethical business is already doing?

Kerryne answers, “The first thing that comes to mind, is motive. God looks at the heart. Many businesses fall in with emerging trends, or contribute to various causes, purely for the sake of positive brand association. But the ‘why’ behind our actions matters – is our aim to be compliant, or to be transformative?”

She continues, “God’s kingdom is often counter-intuitive. In tough economic times, business leaders feel justified in cutting their labour force, or cutting salaries. But would the CEO be prepared to take a salary cut, in order to retain more staff? It is important to be wise, but are they willing to do what is right, as opposed to what is acceptable?” As a Christian business leader, you are sometimes called to make big sacrifices, without anyone else knowing about it.

Matthew 6:1–4 states, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them… When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets…to be honoured by others… Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Again, this speaks to the ‘why’ behind our actions.

Many Christians feel that their role in society is to point out everything that is wrong or evil. Kerryne disagrees, “We need to realise that part of our role as agents of redemption is to affirm what is good. Ethical business is already doing so much with respect to auditing the supply chain – and as Christian business leaders we can affirm that it is good, and add momentum to it. Then, we can trust God for even more creativity and wisdom to address social justice issues, and be even more generous in spirit.”

“If we look at the universe, nature, and the way God treats us – it is with such generosity of love, provision and beauty,” she says. “His generosity should stir ours. Are we willing to go beyond the basic call of duty? For example, we should not be satisfied with paying the minimum wage. Are we paying our staff a living wage? Are we helping them to learn sound financial management? Are we assisting them to find better housing?”

Supporting social justice through manufacturing

Kerryne explains how eyeSlices® supports social justice through redemptive practices in manufacturing.

“As business owners, even when we don’t have a lot of resources, the one area where we can make a difference is skills development. We need to see the potential in people,” she says. “But I have to confess that this is sometimes a thankless task – you go through all the effort of finding someone, training them, and then they leave you at the drop of a hat when a better opportunity comes along.” She continues, “At one time, I became disillusioned. I just wanted to employ someone who already had the skills, who could just do their job. I would pay them a good wage, and treat them fairly, but didn’t want to go the extra mile anymore.” She felt God speak to her, saying, “This is not only about your business. You’re putting skills back into the economy, and making a difference in people’s lives. I care about them, too.”

It is good to keep that perspective, Kerryne realised. “It isn’t always about us, about our efforts, about our little business ecosystem. Every redemptive action has a knock-on effect, and we shouldn’t become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” as is written in Galatians 6:9.

Another way Kerryne and her team supports social justice through manufacturing, is to support local business. “We source 99% of our ingredients, packaging and other manufacturing requirements from South Africa, as opposed to importing from China. We visit our suppliers in person, we know their values – so that we can authentically audit our supply chain, while also stimulating the local economy.”

Even this is not a fail-safe approach. Kerryne remembers, “Besides sourcing from local suppliers, we looked for other product packing companies to pass on our overflow work. We were so excited when we found a company that employs people with disabilities, because we believed it would give their staff the opportunity to be economically active, and to have dignity. When we asked a few questions about their cost structure, we realised they were paying their staff way below the minimum wage. The company had concocted a system where they qualified for government subsidies, as well as earning from market-related pricing, but without passing on the financial benefits to their staff.” In the end, eyeSlices® didn’t do business with them.

Social justice impacts the individual

Kerryne comments, “We are confronted with social justice issues and poverty on such a massive scale in South Africa, that we feel we have to make a difference on a massive scale. It can sometimes feel like we’re trying to fill up an abyss. But whatever efforts we make in engaging redemptively in society, make a difference.”

Kerryne points out that, again, it circles back to the ‘why’ behind our actions. “Don’t be deceived – Christians also have an ego! We would love to say that we changed the lives of 200 people a year, instead of admitting we upskilled one person. But we need to balance the tension of trying to impact whole communities, with empowering an individual.”

She smiles, “One of our staff members started working for us about 9 years ago. She was completely unskilled, and had missing front teeth. Even though she rose through the ranks of the company she was always self-conscious and stayed in the background. We realised that she could never afford the dentistry, so we paid to have her teeth fixed. It created an astounding turnaround in her life – she became confident and outgoing, and is now one of our factory supervisors.”

Kerryne encourages other Christians in business to keep engaging the issue of social justice. “Sometimes we get tired or disappointed, sometimes we fail to help when we had the means to do so. But it’s never too late to try again. God wants to guide you – in the season of your business, with the resources you have, in the changes you need to make, where you need to step out in faith. Don’t look at what other people are doing – focus on your own journey, on what God is saying to you, and walk that out in obedience.”

In conclusion, she reminds us that our lives on earth is temporary, that we need to “store up for treasures for ourselves in heaven” (Mat. 6:19–21), and that “whatever we do, we need to do it with all our hearts, since we know we will receive an inheritance as a reward” (Col. 3:23–24). And that, perhaps, is the crux of engaging with social justice as a Christian business leader. It is about making a positive impact in society, yes, but it “is the Lord Christ we are serving.”

Kerryne Krause