LIBERIA: WaterAid wants businesses to invest in water and toilets to boost health, wealth and business
By: WASH R&E “Media”
WaterAid reveals the key benefits of investing in clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in workplaces and employee communities.
Unpublished research published today by WaterAid shows that when companies invest in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for their employees, their business thrives. Productivity increases, health, morale and loyalty improve, absenteeism decreases, punctuality improves and staff turnover decreases – which ultimately drives business profits.
The new data, published in two reports titled ‘Boosting business: why investing in water, sanitation and hygiene pays off’, backed by HSBC, was carried out in the garment and leather industries in six workplaces in India and Bangladesh over a two-year period. period. The reports include projections for the next ten years.
This is the first time that the impacts of WASH investments on employees and businesses have been documented and analyzed, and that the return on investment (ROI) has been so clearly highlighted, according to WaterAid.
As trends show consumers increasingly care about how their clothes are made and are looking for products and brands that put employee well-being first, employee health should be a priority for everyone. business leaders, and investing in WASH should become central to businesses. Economic, social and governance (ESG) strategies and actions, said WaterAid.
The key to success is providing these essentials not only in the workplace, but also in employee communities and throughout business supply chains.
Key findings of the report include:
Investing in WASH has resulted in a multitude of business benefits and trends for both employees and management.
Employee access to drinking water has increased by 30% and to handwashing stations by 13%. The availability of home toilets increased by 10 percentage points (from 70% to 80%).
Absenteeism decreased by 29% and 83% of employees reported improving their handwashing behavior.
In employee communities, almost a third of households (31%) now have safely managed water, and 26% of households now have decent toilets, compared to zero access for both before the project .
Absenteeism decreased by 15%, punctuality improved by 5% and attrition decreased by 2%.
A climate-resistant rainwater harvester installed by Fakir Fashion (one of the ready-to-wear factories) provided significant environmental benefits and cost savings in water supply and treatment .
Productivity is the most influential and important metric contributing to return on investment across all six workplaces. For example, in Bangladesh, productivity showed great improvement in all three factories, resulting in the greatest business benefit – around $7.8 million (BDT 738 million) over ten years with continued investment in WASH.
Assuming continued investment in WASH over a ten-year period, factories in Bangladesh showed an estimated overall return on investment of $6.79 for every dollar invested (ranging from -$9 to $30); in India, the figure showed an overall return on investment of $2 for every dollar invested (ranging from -$2 to $8).
While the return on investment for each of the six workplaces varied, depending on a range of factors – such as the impacts of COVID-19, the “value” of products and previous WASH standards – the benefits for employees and businesses are incredibly clear, WaterAid said.
Ruth Loftus, Project Manager and Senior Private Sector Advisor at WaterAid, said:
“These investments improve employee health and productivity, increase worker morale, reduce absenteeism and help prevent illness – all of which means reduced operational costs, ultimately improving a company’s bottom line and respecting its ESG commitments.
“There is a compelling case for factory management to take up the gauntlet and invest in taps, toilets and good hygiene for their employees. Participating factories showcase the business benefits, generate return on investment, align with regulatory and reputational expectations, and potentially drive change for millions of people through the businesses they supply – many of which are global brands.
“Human stories reveal the less tangible, but immeasurable value of investing in decent WASH facilities in communities and workplaces. Now, for example, the predominantly female workforce in garment factories can learn more about menstrual health and hygiene, access menstrual products, and share new tips with family and friends.
India is the world’s fifth largest exporter of leather goods and has around 3,000 tanneries providing employment to over four million people. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter, with its ready-to-wear sector accounting for 83% of the country’s export earnings.
The Kings International Ltd tannery in Unnao, northern India, which processes hides into finished leather, has struggled with employee absenteeism, particularly during the monsoons when floods cause water contamination sourcesleading to poor hygiene and increased cases of diarrhea and dysentery.
The factory has joined the WaterAid project, installing toilets and handwashing points and renovating water stations. Hygiene messages and jingles were broadcast near the toilets and promotional films on hygiene were shown in the common room; all of which the employees spoke highly of to their friends and family back home.
Mr. Amir Ausaf, Plant Manager of Kings International Ltd, explained:
“Either the workers were sick, or their children and family members were. Anyway, absenteeism was high at that time [of adverse weather].
“Now, absenteeism during seasonal changes has decreased, which means that our productivity has increased. It’s a simple logic: if our workers are in good health, we have everything to gain. Industries must invest in the health of their workers.
In Bangladesh, single mother Moushumi works in one of the factories. She shares how her life has improved:
“In my locality, we did not have access to drinking water and the only toilets were not hygienic, always shared with many people. When we finally had toilets in our community, running water and a hand washing station in our factory, it was a huge relief for us that we [no longer] have to queue for hours. We learned good hygiene and how to take care of our menstrual cycle – it’s something we couldn’t talk about with our mothers. Now there is no shame. Now I don’t lose money for my absenteeism […] and the money I had to spend for medical reasons is now going to my son’s education.
Staff at all six workplaces were satisfied with the impact of WASH investments, with 100% of employees at the three garment factories saying the facilities had brought about positive change, and 83% believed the project had contributed significantly to better health in their communities.
Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid, said:
“This is truly a game-changing project, as evidence of the impact on companies investing in something as fundamental as water and toilets has been largely anecdotal – until now. With health and profit in mind, the ‘Boosting business: why investing in water, sanitation and hygiene pays off’ [reports] prove to companies that now is the time to put the well-being of millions of factory workers at the heart of their business strategies.
“As climate change is poised to cause erratic weather events such as floods, droughts and cyclones, investing in WASH is fundamental to protecting people who already live on the frontlines of climate change and to building businesses strong and durable. With the business landscape changing and where products come from becoming increasingly important to the consumer, business leaders now have enormous potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of people.
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