Ten global companies today announced new and expansive commitments to improving the health and empowerment of a combined more than 250,000 women workers and community members around the globe. Commitments from Unilever, Twinings, Nordstrom, Lindex, Shahi, MAS Holdings, Hela Clothing, Inditex, Share Hope, and Ethical Apparel Africa will reach workers in 14 countries with health and empowerment information or services, such as contraception, maternal health, menstrual health, reproductive cancer screening, skill building, anti-harassment programs, and more.
These groundbreaking commitments, announced at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference – the world’s largest global gathering on gender equality and the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women – are part of a growing movement in the private sector to connect the dots between women’s shift into the global workforce, their unmet need for essential health and empowerment information and services, and the business potential of a healthy and productive workforce.
Women in developing countries are entering the workforce at unprecedented rates. Hundreds of millions of women work in global supply chains, and in sectors like garment manufacturing, flower farming, and coffee, cocoa, and tea production, women make up between 50 and 80 percent of the workforce. But too often, the needs of these women workers – from basic health care, to protection from harassment and violence, to economic empowerment – are neglected. Investing in women’s health and well-being in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do: a healthier workforce reduces absenteeism and turnover while increasing productivity, helping companies reap the benefits of financial returns and social impact.
“Companies employing millions of women in their global supply chains have an enormous opportunity to invest in the health and empowerment of their workforce, helping meet women right where they are – in the workplace – with critical information and services, while building a healthier, more productive workforce,” said Robyn Russell, Director of Programs and Innovation at the United Nations Foundation’s Universal Access Project. “It’s a win for women and for business.”
Unilever will invest 2 million Euros to implement the ‘Global Safety Framework for rural spaces’ co-created with UN Women and guarantee access to basic health care services (including family planning, maternal and mental health), reaching 70,000 people on and around its tea estates in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda by 2022; Unilever will also work with partners to create an industry-wide action platform to promote women’s safety and empowerment in Assam, India. “As the largest tea company in the world, we are working hard to ensure all our workers, particularly women, are safe, healthy, and respected. I have seen firsthand the positive impact we can have on the lives of the women who work on our tea estates, and I am delighted that this extension of our safety work will help even more women,” said Mick van Ettinger, Executive Vice-President Tea, Unilever.
Twinings, a global tea and beverage company, commits to reach all of its 75,000 female supply chain farmers in Kenya with the HERhealth training program by 2023. Additionally, Twinings will incorporate access to essential health and empowerment services including menstrual hygiene, contraception, maternal and infant care, cancer screenings, STI screenings and other critical services in Kenya, Malawi and India, reaching 50,000 women workers with health services by 2023. “Healthier, empowered and sustainable communities are essential to ensuring strong supply chains, but also we believe working to improve lives in our supply chain is the right thing to do. Women form most of the workforce in tea gardens, but sexual health and reproductive rights can be a barrier to their development. When women and girls thrive, so do their societies. That’s why we are committed to empowering women in our supply chain through health and education,” said Céline Gilart, Head of Social Impact, Twinings.
Nordstrom, a global retailer, commits to sourcing 70 percent of all Nordstrom Made products from factories that support women’s empowerment by 2023. Nordstrom will reach 75,000 workers in Vietnam, India and Bangladesh through programs like HERhealth, HERfinance and HERrespect, among others. The company anticipates it will reach at least 40,000 workers with HERhealth programs alone. “Nordstrom takes great pride in the products we create, and we value the women and men in our global supply chain who make it possible. Women make up the majority of factory workers around the world, and we’re committed to supporting them in developing the skills they need to thrive both at work and beyond, through increased access to things like health resources and education,” said Jen Jackson Brown, President, Nordstrom Product Group.
Inditex, global fashion group, commits to expand its Women Empowerment Strategy in its supply chain to reach more than 1 million female workers with health, protection, and empowerment programs by 2022, and specifically commits to reaching at least 70,000 women workers with health care services such as maternity and reproductive health care by 2022. “Women play a critical role in the global garment industry, which is why Inditex places them at the center of our supply chain strategy. We can only foster a sustainable supply chain by taking a gender perspective that allows us to understand the issues faced by women and ensure they have access to health and well-being services they need to thrive.” Felix Poza, Chief Sustainability Officer, Inditex.
Lindex, a Swedish fashion chain, commits to ensure 80 percent of its first-tier suppliers have implemented WE Women (a program to incorporate gender equality into management systems and provide employee training) and HERhealth (a workplace program which provides information and training on health and empowerment topics including family planning, reproductive health, nutrition programs, and more) to reach at least 20,000 women workers India, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Myanmar by 2025. “Our commitment is in line with our company vision – to empower and inspire women everywhere. Women are not only the ones who love to wear our garments – they populate every part of our value chain, from field to fitting room. Lindex is filled with and surrounded by women, and we feel a responsibility to every single one of them to ensure they are healthy and empowered,” said Anna-Karin Dahlberg, Corporate Sustainability Manager, Lindex.
Shahi, India’s largest apparel manufacturer, commits to partner with the Family Planning Association of India to reach 9,000 workers in six of its factories, along with more than 10,000 community members, totaling 19,000 people, with women’s health information and services, including sexual and reproductive health that includes family planning, STI testing and treatment, and mother and child health by 2020. The one-year pilot will lead to a wide-scale roll out of such services across more of Shahi's factories. “Shahi understands the unique health and well-being needs of women, including family planning, are directly related to their personal and professional development and sees investing in workers as a valuable strategy to enable women to contribute fully to the business and to society. This is why we are committing to partnering with the Family Planning Association of India to offer reproductive health information and services to our employees,” said Laura Quinn, Global Sustainability Partnerships Advisor, Shahi Exports.
MAS Holdings, South Asia’s largest apparel manufacturer, headquartered in Sri Lanka, commits to continue its Women Go Beyond program, in partnership with the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka and UNFPA, which includes information, services, and refresher training on women’s health and well-being to all existing workers and extending the program to reach an additional 10,000 people, including new recruits and families of workers, by 2021. “Women need health and health care services including education on family planning and reproductive health to be able to fully participate in the workforce. With over 70% of our 98,000 associates being women, MAS Holdings has been proactively addressing this need over the years through Women Go Beyond, a structured program focused on empowering women,” said Shanaaz Preena, Director, Women Go Beyond, MAS Holdings.
Hela Clothing, a garment manufacturer in Kenya, commits to implement HERhealth and partner with local women’s health and well-being providers to ensure workers have access to health and empowerment information and services, such as family planning, maternity care, cancer screenings, STI services, gender-based violence assistance, menstrual hygiene and more, reaching 10,000 additional workers, in Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Ethiopia, by 2022. “Hela understands that a successful workforce requires a healthy workforce. This is why we are expanding our investment in health and empowerment for our women workers. People are our business; without our people, we don’t have a business. Only when women workers have access to reproductive health care, education, and training can they achieve their potential and can we succeed as a business,” said Dominic McVey, Group Board Director, Hela Clothing.
Share Hope commits to enroll an additional 4,000 women workers in the HERhealth program (a training program on topics ranging from nutrition, sanitation, STI prevention and reproductive health) in four factories in Haiti and an additional 2,000 in the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program, with some workers participating in both programs, reaching a total of 5,000 women workers by 2022. “In countries where the health system is weak, the workplace should be the first frontier to accessing information and providing preventative health measures. From a management perspective, investing in the health of workers is common sense. When workers are healthy they come to work and they are motivated, and when workers know that management is proactive in bringing them valuable information and services, their commitment to and trust in the company is strengthened as well,” said Cynthia Petterson, CEO & Co-Founder, Share Hope.
Ethical Apparel Africa, a garment sourcing agent in West Africa, commits to continue to provide support to kick start workforce empowerment and women’s health programs, including family planning and maternal health care, reaching 1,500 women in garment factories in Ghana by 2023. “We are committed to being part of the development of the West African apparel manufacturing industry, getting it right from the start in relation to ethical standards and worker empowerment. This is especially important to women and training on reproductive health is a key element of this,” said Keren Pybus, CEO, Ethical Apparel Africa.
The United Nations Foundation, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK’s Department for International Development, and Merck for Mothers*, is leading this initiative to work with companies that have large global supply chains employing millions of women workers to improve the health and well-being of their workers. To learn more about these commitments and explore the business case for investing in workplace women’s health and empowerment, visit www.privatesectoractionforwomenshealth.com.
About the United Nations Foundation
The United Nations Foundation acts as a strategic partner to help the United Nations mobilize the ideas, people, and resources it needs to deliver and to grow a diverse and durable constituency for collective action. We focus on issues at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, build initiatives across sectors to solve problems at scale, and engage citizens who seek action. Founded in 1998 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner, the UN Foundation works with philanthropic, corporate, government, and individual partners. Learn more at: www.unfoundation.org.
Senior Communications Manager, Universal Access Project at the UN Foundation
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*Merck for Mothers is known as MSD for Mothers outside the U.S. and Canada.