The Hurdler


Name: Assad Bajwa
Lives in: Sialkot, Pakistan
Profession: Human Resources Manager  & Member of Asian Board of Fairtrade
Mission: Never Give Up

The Man of the Year on our team is Assad Bawja. Against the odds and notable resistance, Assad provided us with invaluable help in having Pakistans first Fairtrade project for cotton farmers properly certified. Without him, it wouldnt have been possible. 

Assad is tireless, even working in his car. But man doesn’t live by struggle alone. Once in a while you need a cup of tea for instance, ideally around 5 in the afternoon on the idyllically landscaped lawn of the factory in Sialkot. Assad Bajwa cherishes this little ritual and the brief respite of peace and quiet in his otherwise busy workday. As a Fairtrade pioneer in his country Assad is relentlessly confronted with new challenges, but he never loses his sense of humor, answering every question whenever possible with a joke.

Assad received his economics degree in 1994 from the Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, Pakistan.

He has been an HR manager now for 20 years at the Talon Sports company in Sialkot, where our Ethletic sneakers are manufactured. And Assad was the first manager in Pakistan to have his production operation certified by Fairtrade, all the way back in 1998! He also founded the first employee welfare organization in Pakistan, the Talon Workers Welfare Society. As members of the society, the Talon employees decide which social projects to finance with Fairtrade premiums.

Talon Sports Sialkot
Good working environment: Ethletic sneakers are manufactured at Talon Sports in Sialkot.

From a Western perspective, it’s hard to imagine all that Assad manages to accomplish in his country. He faces resistance from many sides and has to try to satisfy them all. This begins within his own company, where he is constantly called on to justify why Fairtrade is so important for the business despite the fact that, at least on the surface, it only appears to cost the owners money.

The bureaucratic obstacles in Pakistan are no less formidable than here in Germany. On the contrary, and even the Fairtrade organizations themselves cause plenty of red tape on their own with the innumerable requirements and standards to comply with. Assad’s desk is practically buried in files full of audit reports from the various certifying organizations.


Assad at work
At work: Assad handles important correspondence during the drive.

This year Assad has achieved yet another landmark. Together with Ethletic he has managed to have Pakistan’s first collective of small farmers certified by Fairtrade International.

While that may not sound like such a big deal at first to you, me or even Fairtrade pros, those in the know about how things work in Pakistan can appreciate what a mammoth accomplishment this represents for everyone involved. In Pakistan, things are just a little different.

Mittendrin: Assad bei den Dorfältesten der Baumwoll-Kooperative.
Right in the middle of things: Assad with the cotton cooperatives village elders.

It starts with the fact that because of Pakistan’s political situation it’s difficult to find auditors who will travel there to certify companies or cooperatives. Some certification organizations even forbid their employees from travelling to Pakistan. We here on the team find that a little hard to swallow, because these are precisely the regions where such audits and certification measures are needed the most.

Bad enough, right? Hang on, there’s more. The procedure is extremely complicated even more by the fact that certification is only intended for collective cooperatives. The only thing is, cooperatives have been legally banned in Pakistan since the 1970sdie Gründung von Kooperativen gesetzlich ist . The next “challenge” is that the presiding Fairtrade office is in India, and no one in India answers the phone for a Pakistani number for fear of falling under the suspicion of the Indian secret Service.

Crazy? You bet! And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hurdles Assad has to face dealing with Fairtrade issues. “Inshalla”, or “God willing”, is one of his standard phrases, always accompanied by a knowing smile acknowledging how seldom the best-laid plans actually turn out in Pakistan. So it’s a good thing Assad is never rattled by the unforeseen, as we recently witnessed during a fire drill.

Assad, Marc, Johanna
A good team: CEO Marc Solterbeck with Assad and designer Johanna Balzer.

But all’s well that ends well: We did it! Despite the difficulties, a few days ago we were finally issued the certificate. We’re unbelievably happy, and unbelievably relieved.

But our biggest thanks go to Assad for the effort he puts in day in and day out for the Welfare Society. For each Ethletic product that’s manufactured this organization receives a premium that the employees can use for social projects of their choice.

At present these funds finance health insurance, doctor’s visits, hospital stays, school materials for the children and clean drinking water facilities. The key is that the employees decide for themselves which important projects and purposes they want to use the premiums for. And Assad is always ready to listen to their concerns.

Logo of the “Talon Faitrade Workers Welfare Society”

In the Workers Welfare Society Assad’s voluntary activities include ensuring that family members are entitled to medical care. To this end he’s put together an impressive network of doctors and clinics available to the Welfare Society and its member’s relatives. Another of Assad’s personal missions is the education and vocational training of his fellow Pakistanis, so he dedicates much time and effort to supplying schools with the teaching and learning materials they need. And his wife, herself a teacher, helps him keep an eye on what’s needed.

Schule Pakistan
Motivated: School pupils in the village of Basti Jandheerwala, Pakistan.

Assad, we thank you for your commitment from the bottom of our hearts!

Your Ethletic Team

Text: Marc Solterbeck & Annika Langhagel
Translation: John Jeffrey Collier