An Original Approach to Women and the Workplace

Levi Strauss & Co.
March 10, 2011

The eyes of the world have been on Egypt in recent weeks, as thousands of people have taken to the streets to seek greater justice and economic opportunity. Even before the scenes from Cairo’s Tharir Square erupted into public consciousness, signs of progress were emerging.

In the town of Ismalia, Egypt, Samira El-Sayed regularly leads discussions on sensitive issues such as reproductive health and hygiene among her female colleagues. This hasn’t always been part of her job duties—before participating in peer-led training sessions on these topics, she was a typical factory worker with limited access to health information.

“I value this knowledge and believe that it is my duty to pass on the messages I am blessed with,” Samira says. “I started talking to women on the bus, at the mosque, at the market, and anywhere else I could reach.”

These women-to-women support networks are part of HERproject, an initiative powered by BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), the global business network and consultancy dedicated to sustainable business.  BSR’s HERproject advances women’s health education programs in factories around the world, with the goal of reaching the millions of women working in global supply chains. Even amid societal taboos around female health issues, women like Samira get involved in HERproject because they understand that the workplace can provide a safe environment to help women in their community identify and prevent health risks.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the HERproject initiative serves as a powerful example of how investing in women’s current health concerns can yield long-term benefits to their lives, as well as the workplace.

Levi Strauss & Co. has been a passionate driver of gender equity throughout its history—HERproject became the kind of pioneering initiative that the Levi Strauss Foundation supported from the very start.  Since the launch of our first program in 2007, the Foundation has steadily supported us in Egypt, Pakistan, India and China, in factories where Levi Strauss & Co. products are made.

In Egypt, for example, HERproject encouraged women to find safe environments to address health concerns.  In Pakistan, we persuaded managers at one factory to provide its female workers with reproductive health education and sanitary napkins.

Reports from both countries indicated that women could concentrate better and were less likely to take sick days due to monthly pains, infections, or embarrassment.

In Egypt and Pakistan, the Levi Strauss Foundation is also financing studies that show—in numbers—that the new practices HERproject helped implement are increasing the overall productivity of the workplace. Establishing this sense of value is what might convince factories to eventually fund the programs on their own. It’s a game-changing approach that Levi Strauss & Co. supports.

As President and CEO of BSR, I believe that finding new ways to address the challenges women factory workers face should be of primary concern to any responsible business. Indeed, these are the women who are driving our globalized economy.  In the garment industry, where women make up three-fourths of all factory workers, focusing on their well-being ensures happier employees, productive workplaces, and ultimately quality products.

So far, HERproject has worked with more than 100,000 women in over 70 factory sites. As BSR continues to support innovative practices that improve the lives of women garment workers globally, we are proud to work with Levi Strauss & Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation to turn ideas into actions.

BSR Aron Cramer