G.S Patil is the General Manager of Human Resources and Compliance at Laj Exports in Bangalore, India where for the past 10 years he has overseen the sourcing of major apparel brands such as Wrangler, Lee, Guess, and United Colors of Benetton. The majority -- 70% -- of the workers Patil oversees at the factory are women.
In 2018, Laj Exports decided to implement the 14-month Zalando’s Life Skills for Empowering Women program supported by Swasti Health Catalyst that covered health (water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and anemia) financial inclusion (financial planning, budgeting, and saving) and gender (gender steortypes, gender discrimination, and gender-based violence). Each month, Swasti offered trainings on one of these three topics to peer educators - women workers chosen by their peers or management to receive this health information training - who would afterwards go and share this knowledge with the rest of the employees. The factory noticed a significant improvement in worker's health, a reduction in absenteeism, and an increase in worker productivity. For example, the number of days women were absent due to menstrual cramps, weakness, and other health issues reduced from three days per month to one day per month. Additionally, workers’ knowledge of health care service providers in the vicinity increased from 46% to 78%, knowledge of menstrual hygiene increased from 54% to 95%, and knowledge of gender-based violence and discrimination increased from 74% to 91%. Seeing the value of this program, Patil - who was keen to work with Swasti once more - successfully convinced the factory’s management to implement Swasti’s Invest for Wellness (i4We) program. To date, 58 peer educators have been trained under i4We.
In addition to healthcare information, 90% of employees and their families are insured through India’s Employees’ State Insurance (ESIC) where each month the factory pays almost 20 lakhs - or USD $281 - to the federal government for employees to access health care services such as anemia screenings, blood pressure screenings, and more. With the help of Swasti, Patil’s factory will also implement a new primary health care package that will provide services to treat anemia and hypertension, and later on reproductive health - including family planning services such as cervical and breast cancer screenings. The factory also allows mothers up to six months of maternity leave and has a free childcare facility available for employees with children under five years of age.
For Patil, there are many reasons to invest in health programs for the factory’s female workforce but he narrows it down to two primary justifications. First, Patil stressed that wellness programs like these show workers that the management cares about them; if workers know they are being treated like family, they are more likely to be happier, healthier individuals and will remain at their current employer. He noted that while the normal industrial attrition rate, or employee turnover, is eight percent to ten percent in India, in his factory it is only five percent.
“Employees are part of our family,” said Patil.“We take care of everything for them - what they want, whatever grievance they have, that's the main thing.”
Second, the factory’s overall productivity and output increases.
“If an employee is not there, we cannot run the factory. If a machine is idle, it is a loss for us.” Patil explained. He believes that since the start of these health and well-being programs, employees have been making garments two to three times faster, thereby producing more for the factory. These programs are a win for women and for business.
Patil ended the conversation with messages to other factories, and to consumers that buy the clothes they make. To consumers, he urges them to “not think about money” and instead to think about how each manufacturer treats their workers when deciding where to buy from. To brands, suppliers, and other factory managers, Patil said “[the factories] need to invest in their employees, then they will get a return.” In his view, “employees' health is our wealth.”