Take a look at your jeans, your sweater or the shirt on your back. The people who made it — who sewed on the buttons and stitched the cuffs — were most likely women.
That’s because 60 to 80 percent of all apparel workers are female. Most are between 18 and 25 years old, and many of them have moved from the countryside to the city in search of work.
You’ll find these women in developed countries, but more often in the developing world. They usually have — at best — a grade school education. And when it comes to knowing about the really important things, like healthcare and even their own rights, their knowledge is limited. They are, in fact, extremely vulnerable.
This morning, I had the privilege of shining a spotlight on these women at the Gender Equality Challenge, sponsored by the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. It was exciting to hear from other women in the private sector about their ideas to erase gender inequity — from the boardroom to the chemistry lab to the factory floor.
At Levi Strauss & Co., the women who work in our suppliers’ factories are very important to us. They’re the ones who make the products that bear our name.
That’s why, in 1991, we became the first multinational apparel company to establish a workplace code of conduct for our manufacturing suppliers. We call this code our Terms of Engagement, and it specifies the health and safety standards, ethical requirements and environmental practices these suppliers must follow.
It’s also why, since 2008, we have partnered with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and other apparel brands on HERproject, a factory-based peer education program that provides female apparel workers with health information ranging from general hygiene and nutrition to maternal health and HIV/AIDS.
What HERproject provides is basic, but also very important.
A woman who learns how to stay healthy can share this information with her children and others in her family. It has a multiplier effect that results in improved overall health for herself and her community, which can result in economic development and even resource conservation.
A BSR study revealed that every dollar invested in factory health clinics and health training for women returns three dollars. This comes in the form of increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and lower turnover rates.
Right now, HERproject is creating a better environment for female factory workers in 10 countries, including Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Haiti, India and Pakistan. The initiative is supported by other leading apparel brands such as Columbia Sportswear, H&M, J. Crew and Timberland.
Together, we’re demonstrating to suppliers that investing in workers can create both business and social return.
We’re excited to help continue the momentum, and you can feel a whole lot better getting dressed in the morning knowing that the woman who sewed on your buttons and stitched your hems is healthy, valued and better able to care for her family and community.