The company’s  reaction to experiences like the 2006 earthquake has included drawing up an evacuation plan that is simple and  clear; if the alarm sounds, everyone knows what to do—leave  their machines at once and follow a carefully prepared ‘safe route’ to a designated meeting point. Budi Makmur has also trained up a high proportion of its workforce as qualified first- aiders; there are 25 people across the different departments with some skills and training in first aid, 10% of the workforce.

Human resources manager, Tri Ratnaningsih, explains that the company’s approach is to focus always on its people. It makes cash assistance available to employees suffering a family illnes or bereavement; this is a formal agreement accepted by the trade union that represents the workers. When necessary, union representatives are permitted to go to meetings in compa time, with the tannery sometimes providing transport. The company has also responded to calls in the local community to supply capital loans to schools for projects such as libraries and sports equipment, and there are also scholarships for childrenof e mployees. For this, things are less formalised, but workers know they can approach Mrs Ratnaningsih to present a case for a child who is doing well in school; if she feels there is a good chance a scholarship will help the young person make the most of their talents, she will present the application to the company leadership.

Another academic connection that the company is proud of is its association with the Akademi Teknolgy Kulit, the only leather training institution in south-east Asia, which is located in Yogyakarta. The company views its support of the institution as an important contribution to the sustainability of the leather industry in the region because it is the Akademi Teknolgy Kulit that is producing new generations of leather professionals, technicians and designers.

Budi Makmur actively supports a range of sporting activities among its workers; badminton, indoor and 11-a-side football are all popular. The company supplies equipment and organises inter-employee matches, and the occasional encounter with other  companies. “All of  this helps to make for a good relationship between the workrs thmselves and between the workforce and the company, ”Mrs Ratnaningsih  says. “It’s good for everyone to talk about their families or badminton for a while instead of work.”

There are cultural activities, too, including dancers and an orchestra of 15 or 20 members, mixing electric guitars and drums with traditional Javanese bamboo flutes and gamelan in a combination known as campursari, with all instruments provided by the company.

Co-workers have hired the orchestra for family celebrations such as weddings, and the group has played often at company events, sometimes with the sponsorship of leather chemical companies.

Every five years, the company holds a major celebration and makes a presentation to the best employee over that period, taking into account the quality of the work candidates have produced, the efficiency of their output, their attendance records and so on. Other activities include regular company- wide or departmental excursions to local amusement parks, and celebrations with the local community.

In departmental groups, colleagues also help each other by means of credit unions, known in Javanese culture as arisan. Nugroho Rahmat explains the set-up. Members of most departments in the tannery (without the groups being too restrictive) gather one evening a month, taking turns to host the group in each person’s home. Each visitor passes a small sum of money to the householder. If, traditionally, arisan was a way of helping a young family build a home or buy a fishing boat, its purpose in the context of the tannery is much more social. “It’s not a lot of money,” Mr Rahmat says. “The money pays for the hospitality the host provides on the day, nothing more. For us, it’s much more about building relationships. Through these gatherings, my colleagues know about me and about my family.”

Staff turnover at Budi Makmur is currently one or two people a year. Tri Ratnaningsih is in no doubt that the attention the company pays to the social and cultural needs of its workforce is helping it achieve such an impressive retention record. The chairman says on this subject: “We are happy to have low employee turnover. We are just trying to fit in with Yogyakarta culture. It’s a close-knit society here. And if there is a family wedding, for example, people don’t send out invitations, they  just expect you to come. The culture is not to wait to be asked. But we are happy to have kept our people because it means retaining the skills they have built up, sometimes for 20 years or more. A lot of our processes require skilled people, for example for staking or buffing, and we believe we can achieve better results by using traditional methods. We also believe the quality of the raw materials we use is reflected in the quality of our finished leather. If you use cheaper material, it shows. We don’t want to go down that path.”