Investing in the Health of Factory Workers

Levi Strauss & Co.
January 30, 2017

Investing in the health of factory workers is not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.

That’s the central message in the guidebook, “Managing Health at the Workplace,” which was just released by the Levi Strauss Foundation and written in partnership with Meridian Group International, Inc. under the USAID-funded Evidence Project. The guidebook is the latest resource that Levi Strauss & Co. makes available as part of its commitment to making the Worker Well-being program available to others in the apparel industry.

A healthy worker is a happier and more productive worker, the guidebook asserts. Intended to be a resource and tool for factory managers, the guidebook draws on real experiences in factories to present a compelling business case for companies investing in their worker’s health.

The most striking argument? For every $1 a company spends on the health of its workers, it sees about a $3 return in benefits like higher productivity, lower staff turnover and lower absenteeism.

While these measures target all workers, they can be particularly impactful for women. Women’s health needs are often overlooked in the workplace – and they may not have access to health services outside the factory at all, particularly around reproductive health and family planning. Recognizing the unique challenges that women face is an important step toward promoting gender equality on the factory floors.

The guidebook offers specific and compelling case studies to make its case – such as a factory in Bangladesh that saw absenteeism related to menstruation drop from 75 percent to 3 percent after a health education program encouraged women to use sanitary napkins rather than unclean cloth (often these were fabric scraps picked up off the factory floor). The company also saved money on monthly plumbing costs for factory pipes that had been clogged by the cloth.

But although the guidebook lays out the clear social benefits to investing in worker health, it doesn’t expect factories to be motivated by compassion alone.

“The goal is to help you achieve important business benefits by improving the health of your workers,” it says. “These benefits do not appear magically. They occur in workplaces where workers’ general health – in addition to safety – is taken seriously as a management interest and function.”

The guidebook offers a health scorecard so that factories can assess their health needs, and eight “how-to” modules that walk managers through specific steps for improving health planning, management, budgeting and data collection.

Rather than keeping the tools it has developed to improve the lives of factory workers a closely guarded company secret, Levi Strauss & Co. decided last year to make these resources public to encourage other companies to follow suit.

“We are a company that is always looking beyond what we can achieve alone,” said Chip Bergh, president and CEO, when the open-sourcing was announced. “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.”