Twenty-five years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. took what was then an unprecedented step to implement a code of conduct — called our Terms of Engagement — to protect the basic needs and rights of workers in our supply chain as well as the environment. It was a first for the apparel industry, and it set a new standard that has since become the norm for most apparel companies.
In 2011, LS&Co. saw an opportunity to go beyond compliance and invest in programs that focus on actually improving the lives of the workers who make our clothes – and asking them directly how we can best meet their needs. That is the basis of our Worker Well-being initiative.
It works like this: LS&Co. partners with suppliers in country to identify the needs of workers, then works with local non-profits and NGOs to provide services to meet those needs. Before any program is implemented, LS&Co. surveys factory workers to hear firsthand what they need to more engaged, healthy and productive employees.
“Listening to workers first is a critical component to the success of Worker Well-being,” said Michael Kobori, vice president, sustainability, LS&Co. “Especially as a company that operates in multiple countries. The needs of workers in Sri Lanka may be vastly different than those in Mexico. We want to ensure that the programs we are supporting are valuable. There is no one-size-fits-all in our supply chain.”
Worker Well-being’s unique approach has resulted in programs focused on everything from financial empowerment to guidance on health and family well-being as well as equality and acceptance. It has also resulted in vendors seeing the business value in these programs and funding them well beyond LS&Co.’s initial financial support, making it a sustainable initiative.
A complex supply chain isn’t unique to LS&Co. either, which is exactly why we’ve decided to make our pioneering Worker Well-being initiative publicly available. Starting today, companies across any industry will have access to the guidelines and tools that have allowed LS&Co. to enable a more productive business environment that’s created value for workers, suppliers and the company itself.
“We believe the Worker Well-being Program will serve as a catalyst to transform the industry by setting a new standard for valuing and investing in apparel workers lives,” said Chip Bergh, president and CEO.
To make the most meaningful difference in our world, we know we have to think bigger than LS&Co. It’s why we recently open-sourced our Water<Less™ techniques and why we’re inviting sustainability-minded entrepreneurs to learn from our experience as part of the LS&Co. Collaboratory this month.
Since 2011, we’ve expanded the Worker Well-being initiative to 12 countries, reaching nearly 100,000 workers.
The program’s impact has manifested in various ways across regions. In Bangladesh, for example, women began receiving post-natal healthcare education and lactation breaks, and factories saw a sharp increase in women returning to work after taking maternity leave. In Haiti, LS&Co. partners offered financial literacy training that demonstrated how workers could save money through simple measures like using solar lamps.
Factories are also seeing direct economic benefits once they integrate Worker Well-being into the way they operate. One LS&Co. supplier in Egypt reported that for every $1 invested in a providing health education training to women, it saw a $4 return in the form of reduced absenteeism and lower turnover rates for female workers.
By 2020 the company’s goal is to have 80 percent of its products produced by suppliers that have implemented Worker Well-being initiatives. By 2025, we will scale the program to reach 300,000 workers.
“From here on out, it’s simply what we expect and how we do business with our global suppliers,” Chip said.
Taking Worker Well-being to the next level
To make sure the project is achieving its goals, the Levi Strauss Foundation has given a grant to Harvard University’s Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE) program to develop a universal Worker Well-being measurement toolkit. Manufacturers across the industry will be able to use the toolkit to see tangible links between Worker Well-being and business performance, and learn how the work experience differs according to gender. Those results will help vendors tailor programs to worker needs, and make the larger case for similar programs industry-wide.
“We are a company that is always looking beyond what we can achieve alone,” Chip said. “By partnering and sharing our knowledge, we can create a larger impact. That’s our priority and it gets to the heart of how we do business.”
You can learn more about Worker Well-being and view the resources here.