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How Businesses Can Invest in Women and Realize Returns

Over the next two decades an estimated 1 billion women will enter the global workforce, and approximately 94 percent of these will be in emerging and developing economies. For many of these women, a job in a factory or on a farm may be their first formal employment; they may be migrating from rural to urban settings, and they often lack access to basic health information and services in addition to other critical life skills needed to live healthy, empowered lives.

The private sector—particularly companies with supply chains that employ disproportionate numbers of women such as apparel, agriculture, home goods, and electronics—are uniquely positioned to reach millions of women with the health and empowerment information and services they need to improve their lives.

This brief expands this business case for private sector investment in women’s health and empowerment, and sets out concrete actions that the private sector can take to generate improved health outcomes for women.

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Evaluation of the HERhealth Model in Bangladesh

A new report, “Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the HERhealth Model for Improving Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Knowledge and Access of Female Garment Factory Workers in Bangladesh,” describes the results from the evaluation of the HERhealth model, including:

  • The HERhealth intervention had a positive impact on knowledge and behavior related to menstrual hygiene, in part because of the intervention’s facilitation of relationships between factories and menstrual products suppliers, which made it possible for factories to offer reduced-cost sanitary pads to workers.
  • A positive impact was also observed on workers’ knowledge of STIs and HIV/AIDS, knowledge of recommended antenatal care, and use of contraception.
  • Factory managers reported observing positive effects on workers’ health-related knowledge, awareness, and behaviors, particularly related to hygiene and nutrition. Factory managers were generally supportive of the intervention and seemed to understand the value of healthy workers for improving business outcomes.
  • Results show that family planning products like oral pill, condom, injectable, and IUDs were not provided by participating factory clinics, highlighting an important area for future investment and revision in the HERhealth intervention.

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Women’s Safety in the Workplace Toolkit Guide

Buyers and consumers alike are ever more concerned about workers’ well-being in global supply chains, and the rapid growth of the textiles and garment industry in India in recent years has brought increased attention to working conditions and standards in the industry. One of the most serious challenges in the textiles and garment sector is tackling the issue of sexual harassment in factories and other workplaces.

To help leaders in the textile and garment sector promote a safe working environment for women, BSR has developed the "Women's Safety in the Workplace" toolkit, in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and in consultation with its members. The toolkit provides guidance for companies seeking to strengthen their own policies and activities that prevent and address sexual harassment.

As an introduction to the resources of the toolkit, BSR has developed a Toolkit Guide for business leaders. If you are interested in making use of the full toolkit, please write to:

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Digitizing Worker Salary Payments: A Manual for Ready-made Garment Factories

In 2015, BSR entered into a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to digitize wage payments for low-income workers in global supply chains, as a way of bringing them into the formal financial system. The program, known as HERfinance Digital Wages, was launched at 13 garment factories in Bangladesh in 2015.

The content contained in this manual was commissioned by BSR to support the rollout of the program, and is designed to enable employers in Bangladesh to transition away from cash and toward digital payroll in a responsible manner. It presents the current state of mobile financial services for garment workers in Bangladesh and the challenges of adopting digitized payments, covering subjects such as environmental contexts, tips for mitigating challenges, registering accounts, and selecting service providers.

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Health Facility Guidelines and Management Benchmarks

This guidance document provides the management of international brands or retailers and their supplier companies a set of voluntary guidelines for improving the health and well-being of workers in factories, farms, and other workplaces. It is focused on both the quality of health services provided at the workplace and the adequacy of company policies and management systems to ensure that workers have access to health services.

Every worker – every person – has a right to health; every company has a reason to invest in worker health beyond basic occupational health standards. The business case is strong for multinational corporations and their suppliers to invest in health services for their workers and ensure their access to primary health services.

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Financial Inclusion in the Supply Chain: An Evaluation of the HERfinance Pilot in India

A new report examines whether the HERfinance program improved the financial knowledge and behaviors of low-income workers and whether the program’s methodology led to workplace improvements and employer benefits. Our analysis of the data collected before and after implementing HERfinance reveals that the program has had meaningful impacts in both areas. Key program impacts include:

  • Participants were more than three times as likely to say they felt they could meet their families’ needs in the next two years with the same salary.
  • Women were 23 percent more likely to say they decided what to do with their salaries.
  • Ninety-one percent of workers said they saved a greater portion of their salary after going through the training.
  • Both women and men were 38 percent more likely to save a portion of their salaries in a formal bank account.
  • Ninety-seven percent of participants said their perception of their employer improved because of their support of HERfinance.

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Empowering Women in Kenya’s Tea Sector: Adapting HERproject to the Smallholder Farm Context

Smallholder farmers play an increasingly important role in global supply chains. They make up an estimated 90 percent of the world’s farmers and will be essential to meeting our growing global demands for food. Companies that work with smallholders have a business opportunity and an imperative to support the productivity and sustainable livelihoods of smallholders in their supply chain, thereby contributing to inclusive economic growth.

This working paper presents BSR’s proposed approach for expanding and adapting HERproject, our workplace-based women’s empowerment program, to meet the unique needs of smallholder farmers. It also establishes a set of implementation principles for companies interested in applying HERproject or similar training programs with smallholder farmers in their supply chains.

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Healthcare Delivery in RMG Factories in Bangladesh: What are the Missed Opportunities?

The ready-made garment (RMG) industry is Bangladesh’s greatest contributor to GDP growth and has played a significant role in the country’s improved performance against world development indicators. However, the RMG industry has grown rapidly in Bangladesh within a context of limited social or physical infrastructure to support it.

Within this context, we see enormous potential to better leverage factory-based nurses and on-site clinics to bridge some of these gaps and efficiently link RMG sector workers, especially women, to the health products and services that they need.

With the support of UKaid, BSR conducted a gap assessment of onsite healthcare services and facilities in 10 RMG factories in Bangladesh from June to July 2014, including human capacity, operational management, and company policy. The study finds five main gaps in the healthcare systems available at these factories, and offers ways forward to address the issues.

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Working Women and Health in East Africa’s Agricultural Sector: A Scoping Study for BSR HERproject

This report outlines BSR’s scoping study to evaluate the need for and relevance of workplace-based empowerment programs targeting women in the workforce in export sectors in East Africa.

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Incorporating Women’s Health into Workplace Assessments

A Research Collaboration between UL’s Responsible Sourcing Group and BSR

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HERproject China: Empowering Women Workers

Created to respond to the overwhelming need of young women working in factories to improve their awareness and ability to take better care of their health, BSR’s HERproject has been providing women’s health education and access to services through factory programs in China since 2007. We’ve reached more than 100,000 women in China in the past seven years, as we’ve expanded throughout the country and to new geographies, including Bangladesh, Egypt, India, and Kenya.

Our work has shown that the workplace can support health interventions and that women working in factories take action to improve their health when they are provided with the information they need. We’ve also seen business benefits—from quantitative evidence of return on investment to intangibles like improved attitudes and relationships.

In this report, we share the successes, challenges, and stories of HERproject in China.

中文 »

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HERproject Partner Toolkit

Establishing a “Return on Investment” Program in Factories

Very often, investments in worker health are viewed as hurting the bottom line and reducing profits of factories and suppliers from the developing world.  In fact, factories that put money into health services for workers find that such spending earns a return on the investment (ROI), or, at worst, is budget neutral. The savings can come in a variety of forms, including lower rates of turnover and absenteeism. This ROI toolkit provides some basic tools and background to integrate ROI into the overall health program at a factory.

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Financial Inclusion in the Supply Chain

Approximately 2.5 billion of the world’s adults do not use formal financial services to save or borrow money. About 90 percent of them live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Without access to formal financial institutions, people must rely on their own funds or risky informal services that charge excessive fees to invest in their health and welfare and that of their families.

Vesting the poor with the proper knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward financial management and connecting them to financial products and services can help them manage their money more effectively, invest in economic opportunities, and reduce risks related to illness or loss of employment. For all these reasons, financial inclusion has become a critical development issue and is now part of the G20 agenda.

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HERproject ROI in Egypt and Pakistan

The Business Returns from Women’s Health Programs

Why does the business case matter? Most of all, it matters because it helps make women matter to their supervisors, to their peers, and to themselves. If money is saved through the betterment of women’s lives, and we’re able to prove those savings over time, such findings should create a ripple effect to encourage investments in women’s health along global supply chains around the world.

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Fostering Women’s Economic Empowerment Through Special Economic Zones: Bangladesh

The Case of Bangladesh In Partnership with Canada and the World Bank Group Gender Action Plan

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Fostering Women’s Economic Empowerment Through Special Economic Zones

Comparative Analysis of Eight Countries and Implications for Governments, Zone Authorities and Businesses In Partnership with Canada and the World Bank Group Gender Action Plan

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Investing in Women for a Better World

The benefits of investing in women are evident across the world: Women support their communities, repay their loans faithfully, and provide exemplary leadership on issues from politics to health. It follows that investing in women is good for business, too. And it turns out that workplace women’s health-education programs deliver some impressive returns.

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ESD’s Bangladesh Study

Effects of a workplace health program on absenteeism, turnover, and worker attitudes in a bangladesh garment factory

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Women’s General & Reproductive Health in Global Supply Chains

Women between the ages of 18–25 comprise the vast majority of workers making products for export from the developing world to the developed world. They often work in environments where access to information about reproductive health, as well as critical services, is lacking. This project addressed the need for information and critical services through: 1) researching the health needs of women workers; 2) identifying innovative partnerships between business and civil society to address these needs; and 3) developing information and tools to spur the business community to more fully engage on these issues. The aim is to identify, replicate and scale up effective partnerships between business and civil society to improve reproductive health globally.

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HERproject is Generously Supported by

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation C&A Foundation GAIN Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Takeda The Walt Disney Company UK Government What Works

HERproject Company Participants

HERproject Mission

To unlock the full potential of women working in global supply chains through workplace programs promoting health, financial inclusion, and gender equality. Download an overview of HERproject. Download an overview of HERproject.

About BSR

BSR is a global nonprofit organization that works with its network of more than 250 member companies and other partners to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration. Visit for more information about BSR’s 25 years of leadership in sustainability.