In historical terms, diversity has been instrumental in building Trelleborg AB, including in the company’s home town in southern Sweden.
Thousands of employees from more than 25 countries converged in the region, primarily during the 1960s. Since then, the international and multicultural characteristic has been strengthened globally and is now a natural part of the corporate culture. Trelleborg AB is currently represented in 44 countries and – more so than many other comparable major Swedish companies – has emphasized the importance of recruiting local managers and employees. This has created a Group with a base in Sweden, but marked by national and cultural diversity. A total of about 90 percent of employees in the Trelleborg Group are non-Swedes.
But long before the global expansion, the company was a standard-bearer in terms of multicultural integration. The company’s first engineers were recruited from Germany and the UK. In the 1920s, many Galicians from southern Poland, who had been hired to work in the beet fields of southern Sweden, continued to work in the rubber plant during the winter months.
Following World War II, many refugees came to the region from the Red Cross camps. However, the largest waves came in the 1950s and 60s, when Trelleborg AB expanded robustly at home in Trelleborg and Swedish labor was no longer available.
“At that time, the rubber plant was like a mini United Nations. The number of employees in the region was in the thousands and derived from some 25 countries. This was the result of a necessary influx of foreign labor,” explains Carl Aspegren, who has a long history in the Trelleborg Group as legal counsel and director of communications.
Together with Oliver Lazarevski and Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, he has produced the film Vi kom för att jobba (We came to work). The film details the lives of a few individuals who left their ruined post-war European countries in search of safety, freedom or a better life – and most of all, work – in Sweden.
“They came to a country and industry that desperately needed them. At the end of the 1960s, just over 50 percent of our workforce in Trelleborg had a foreign background,” continues Carl Aspegren. “Without them, our expansion would not have been possible.”
Trelleborg became an open door to the world and was enriched with everything from leavened bread to spicy sausages. Within the plant, a language laboratory was established, hundreds of interpreters were trained internally, the company had its own housing agency and an internal radio station broadcast news in several different languages.
When the need for labor in the industry declined in the 1970s, many who came from other countries got new jobs and remained in southern Sweden.
Some of the comments of the people interviewed in the film are listed below:
“What a start in life!”
“Sweden offered so much. My roots are in Pula and my branches are in Trelleborg.”
“It wasn’t easy initially, but I have never regretted moving to Sweden.”
Annika Gustafsson reviewed the film in the culture section of the Swedish daily Sydsvenskan dated March 24, 2010:
“Everybody has their own memorable story to tell. We are drawn in by their stories, we share in their laughs and feel gratitude for the work undertaken by these people in Swedish society. We came to work gives – with only a few exceptions – a positive impression of the encounter with Sweden and the rubber plant, with its factory mentality – both the good and the bad sides.”
With respect to diversity in present-day Sweden, it can be said that the circle is complete with the launch of a Trelleborg-supported initiative in 2009. Rosengård Invest, in which Trelleborg is one of the principle owners, is an investment company that supports entrepreneurs with a non-Swedish background to – on a commercial basis – help increase integration and create job opportunities for non-Swedes.
This is a modern version of exactly the same initiative undertaken by Trelleborg 50 years ago, although the results were much more obvious and visible back then in the company’s home town of Trelleborg.
Read more: Performance and responsibility go hand in hand for Trelleborg employees, Our Core Values