The Dominican Republic’s economy currently ranks ninth among Latin American countries and in recent years has seen strong growth, one of the fastest-growing recorded among South and Central American countries. High government investments in education, alongside a steady rise in tourism, have brought the country a significant increase in wealth per capita, a drop in unemployment and stable growth of GDP.
Despite these encouraging economic figures social expenditure is still low when compared with that of the other Latin American countries, while public debt is rising steadily, which makes the Dominican Republic sensitive to outside economic fluctuations. In addition the island’s particular geographical setting, combined with its geological past and the government’s difficulties in coping with natural disasters, mean that the area is still highly susceptible to geological and climatic events such as hurricanes and earthquakes. It is calculated that between 1980 and 2008 over 2.65 million people were hit by natural disasters in the territory, around one fourth of the current population.
In 1981 Timberland opened one of its most productive plants in Santiago, the city with the country’s second highest population. The industrial complex today provides work for more than 3 thousand employees and also includes two tanneries which each year produce 3.9 million shoes. This is the Timberland installation which employs the highest number of people in the world. Since it set up in the country, the idea of Timberland and of its parent company, VF Corporation, has always been that of going beyond mere production, making a meaningful contribution to the well-being of the work force and the area in which they live. Today more than ever the Dominican Republic needs schools, work and adequate infrastructure. The constant economic growth accompanied by the growth in tourism, agriculture and manufacturing should necessarily be combined with an extension of the supply of electricity and drinking water and an improvement in the population’s working conditions.
In economic terms Timberland’s presence has an important effect on the community, with the textiles and clothing industry being the second greatest source of employment in developing countries after agriculture. Also a large percentage of those employed in this industry are women. For this reason Timberland has always showed its willingness to do its part for the community over the years and in many cases the priorities were set by its own staff.
Through a series of surveys the company has for example found that one of the greatest concerns for employees is education and childcare. The educational system of the Dominican Republic currently occupies 137th place in the world rankings of 144 countries, a problem which goes hand in hand with a strong lack of preschool and childcare facilities. In the autumn of 2017 Timberland and VF Corporation contributed to the addition of three new classes at the Cienfuegos Daycare Center, a facility created especially for the care and education of the children of the work force of the Recreation Footwear Company and Sun Jade, both owned by the VF Corporation. The project, in a partnership with the Breteau Foundation, involves the immediate entry of 150 extra students, with new teachers and adequate and modern tools for teaching and a programme for young people over eighteen.
Another question of key importance for Timberland is access to primary resources such as drinking water. Although health and hygiene conditions have improved in recent years, total coverage of the population in terms of drinking water and bathroom facilities is still far off the safety average (which corresponds to approximately 95%). 94.5% of the population in cities has access to a basic drinking water supply, yet the number drops to 86% in rural areas. Even lower is the percentage relating to access to bathroom facilities, which drops from 86% for the urban population to 75% for that in the country side. Only 47% of schools have access to drinking water and only 60% are provided with adequate bathroom facilities. The problem today is linked to purification of water and an irregular system still inadequate for the needs of the total population. For this reason in 2014 the company contributed to the building of two towers for drinking water, in cooperation with the NGO Children International and Planet Water Foundation. These facilities were made available to Santiago primary schools and were designed to supply ten thousand litres of drinking water to over two thousand people.