Hello to year 2001

10 January 2001

As I write this in December, I am reminded how the world greeted the advent of the year 2000. After a year or more of agonising as to whether not not our technology was Y2K compliant, the world went into a frenzy of celebrating. Parties were held around to world to witness the end of 1999 and herald in the new year. Fireworks, gun salutes, flocks of doves, no expense was spared and yet what happened? Well, the good news is that the dire predictions of aeroplanes falling out of the skies, banking systems grinding to a halt and water supplies being cut off, were unfounded. The bad news is that the world did not witness a brand new dawn of peace and good will to all men. For the leather industry business continued its slow recovery from the horrors of recession which began in mid 1998 and we must hope that this will continue throughout 2001. I have just returned from Zlin in the Czech Republic. This is the village that became a city when Tomas Bata founded his footwear empire there. The Czech Republic is still struggling to overcome the problems associated with a breakdown of a planned economy and a return to commercial realities. It was the venue for the 14th session of the Unido Leather and Leather Products Industry Panel which overseas the UN efforts to raise aid for the leather industries in the developing world. It is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade donor countries to come up with the funds for ambitious projects in Asia and Africa. And while one delegate (from Africa) expressed the opinion that Africa had become addicted to receiving aid and should be strongly encouraged to stand on its own feet, the reality is that there is still a great need to assist the third world. A visit to a footwear production unit formerly belonging to the great state enterprise Svit, now bankrupt (and once all owned by Bata), showed how returning to the private sector (Bata were allowed to buy this particular factory back) and putting in enlightened management, can turn a business around so that it can compete in the international market. It also underlined how a happy workforce will be more motivated and thus more productive. Less happy was the sight of a machine operator removing hides after setting out and throwing them onto a crumpled heap. For 2001 I would like to see more of the workforce recognised as an important resource.

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