December 14, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Youth of Hastings community in the Western Area Rural District have registered their dissatisfaction over the alleged failure of management of Vitafoam factory to employ indigenes of the community, adding that the company has ‘deliberately’ refused to honour their corporate social responsibilities.
In an interview with Concord Times last Friday, one of the aggrieved youth, Nathaniel Clarke, said the factory has been operating in the community for two years without employing anyone and that most the employees of the factory were taken from outside the community.
“They have not been doing anything for the community. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the factory is not approachable at all. When we take our problems to him, he does not know any interest,” he alleged.
Village Head Abdul Sesay alleged that since he sent a letter of assistance nine months ago to the CEO of Vitafoam requesting four bundles of zinc (corrugated iron sheets) to roof a pavilion at the community field, he was yet to receive a respond.
“Anytime I approach them the contractor Mr. Keita always claimed that they were doing construction. But I can categorically tell you that they are selling mattresses to people. I have personally bought one mattress from them,” he said.
He alleged that the Vitafoam management had pledged to employ indigenes of Hastings when they start manufacturing, although they were yet to do as promised.
“I cannot say there are not employees from Hastings because I personally recommended five people but they ended up employing only one. The youth need employment and Vitafoam authorities should employ more,” he demanded.
Responding to the concerns, Ola Ogunfeyimiti, Chief Executive Officer of Vitafoam, said corporate social responsibility is done when a company makes profit and decides to give back to the community where it operates.
He disclosed that since they started manufacturing mattresses in 2014 they have been recording successive losses, and that the business is slow with a very small market.
“Our aim was to employ over 60 people but we have only succeeded in employing 30 because we have not been getting sales. Some of the people that were making those claims were not doing so in the interest of the community but for their own personal benefits,” he said.
When asked as to whether they are still doing construction rather than manufacturing as claimed by the residents, he said: “I have not told anyone that we were continuing construction. We started operations in 2014 and we are here to do business not to continue construction.”
“We are responsible corporate citizens. We are operating in 23 countries worldwide. Last year, Vitafoam Nigeria celebrated 54 years of existence. This investment is over eight million United States Dollars (US$8m), so we are here to stay and when business shoots up we will employ more of them,” he pledged.
He said they were more than willing to employ people from within the community because of proximity, noting that if anything goes wrong to the factory the people of Hastings would be the first to intervene.
He disclosed that the factory has a capacity to manufacture 600 mattresses per day and 3,000 pillows per shift, adding that at present they only manufacture 21 percent of what they should be manufacturing.
“We have recently helped the community with Le1.5m to fix a broken bridge here. We have just donated 25 mattresses, 25 pillows and bedsheets to the polio women here. What they want is to relate with them individually, which I cannot do,” he said.
The Vitafoam CEO said when they employed some of the community youth they often take less that month before they are sacked for stealing materials belonging to the factory.
“In fact, all the machines here are currently being operated by the locals. We trained them how to do it,” he claimed.
He disclosed that they have a comprehensive medical insurance package for all the staff at the factory, adding that every year they spend close to Le50m for medical treatment.
He said they have spent over one million United States Dollars to buy safety gadgets for their staff.