World Refugee Day: Why Should We Care?

Levi Strauss & Co.
June 20, 2017

Editor’s Note: The following was originally published on LinkedIn by Seth Ellison, EVP/President of Europe at Levi Strauss & Co.

Today, the United Nations has asked the world to stand #WithRefugees to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions affected by the global refugee crisis. Acknowledging World Refugee Day is one step we can make as individuals, and as a company, to show our support for individuals and families who’ve been forced to leave their homes because of conflict around the world.

With all of the human, social, and environmental injustices that deserve our attention, why should we care more about this one? While it is truly a global issue, for those of us here at LS&Co. Europe, we see the refugee crisis in front of us daily. We are witnessing the largest human migration in our lifetime with suffering on a scale that’s hard to comprehend. But we are not powerless. We can take action personally, one individual at a time, or on a larger scale, as a company to help thousands.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism, a pair of Levi’s® jeans was currency in the east—it represented democracy, freedom and opportunity. So we know what the power of our brand can represent in Europe to those rebuilding their lives.

Like many other socially responsible companies, we have a range of causes and issues we stand for. But over the last six months, supporting refugees has become both a regional and global priority. We’ve donated funds, clothing and employee volunteer hours, while connecting with organizations that are providing critical services and assistance to refugees in our communities. And we have learned a lot along the way.

Here are just a few takeaways:

This shouldn’t be just a political issue, it’s a human issue.

As a company, we believe in standing up for what’s right, no matter the political environment. Millions of people have suffered the shattering impact of war and conflict and we have an obligation as human beings to try and help them. There is a lot of political debate on both sides of this issue, but politics should never be an excuse for inaction to relieve human suffering.

Personal connections matter.

We’ve been increasing our financial and product donations, but until recently, I didn’t understand what refugees needed most—job training and personal connections. In Frankfurt, our team met with about 50 refugees to hear their stories. I will never forget talking to one of the young men from Afghanistan who reminded me of my own sons. I asked him if he still had family in Afghanistan and he replied, “they’re all dead.”

My brain froze, unable to process what he was telling me in casual conversation. Yet somehow, he had found the strength to make it to Germany, pursue his education in engineering, remain optimistic about his future, and still wanted to connect with people. Ultimately, all he really wanted was to be treated with dignity as a human being; just as my sons expect to be treated every day.  He was truly inspiring.

I’m also proud that our employees are building their own personal connections, whether by volunteering to give French lessons to children in Belgium, leveraging sport as a unifier with the Kraainem Football Club, or spending the day sharing experiences in Frankfurt. These insights are driving us to explore new ways we can have an even greater impact.

One plus one can equal three.

By building relationships with global organizations like the International Rescue Committee and with local service providers like Convivial in Brussels, we are learning from the experts where our energy and resources are best spent to really make a difference.

We should also care because doing the right thing makes good business sense. Our success in Europe is completely dependent upon always having the “best team on the field.” And top talent wants to play for a team that leads with its values, has a higher purpose and offers them opportunities to do the right thing, day in and day out.

I am proud to be connected to so many talented, experienced and empathetic people. I’m hoping you’ll share this message broadly with your contacts. I’d love to hear your ideas on how LS&Co. might make an even greater impact with refugees, perhaps collaborate, or I’m hoping this will motivate you to spark your own actions.

We are experiencing suffering and challenges that are possibly unprecedented during our lifetime, but maybe the impact we can have is easier to achieve than we believe. I think it starts with listening, sharing, and connecting with one person at a time.