Challenge Model Practice

Levi Strauss & Co. and Business for Social Responsibility

Principle III: Health, safety, and freedom from violence

Principle V: Business, supply chain, and marketing practices

Principle VI: Civic and community engagement

2013 Challenge Submission

Headquartered in San Francisco, Levi Strauss & Co. started as a dry goods business in 1853 and has been innovating ever since Levi Strauss and tailor, Jacob Davis, created the first blue jeans in in 1873. The company has since become a leading global clothing manufacturer, operating in 110 countries and generating about half of the $4.6 billion in net revenues of 2012 outside the United States. The Levi Strauss Foundation was established in 1952 as an independent private foundation with the mission of improving the lives of people living in the communities where the company operates.

The Foundation joined with the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)’s Health Enables Returns (HER) project in a global partnership to implement women’s health programs in factories around the world. Levi Strauss has deployed the HERproject in 11 factories in Bangladesh, China, India, and Pakistan, with expansion to Haiti and Egypt planned for 2014. HERproject programs have been implemented with 19 suppliers since 2008, reaching over 20,000 women. While the Levi Strauss Foundation supports implementation of HERproject in factories where Levi Strauss & Co. products are made, the health trainings are available to all women in the factory – regardless of whether or not they are making Levi Strauss & Co. products.

“As a corporate foundation committed to advancing the rights and well-being of workers in Levi Strauss & Co.'s supplier communities and beyond, we support return-on-investment research, with the objective that a proven business case for investing in women's health will support uptake and replication at a scale we could never achieve on our own.”
Daniel Lee
Executive Director, Levi Strauss Foundation

Levi Strauss & Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation have been a key partner to HERproject's growth. Grants from the Foundation have supported program expansion within the South Asia region (to India and Pakistan) and to Egypt, supported the creation of an open-source global health education curriculum for use in factories, and supported new program directions including HERhealth for men, HERfinance (a financial literacy and access program), and HERrespect (a new program area that will address gender relations in the workplace and community). Levi Strauss & Co. is committed to scaling approaches that are proven to work to address sexual harassment and other relevant issues related to gender among its supply chain.

The Foundation has also provided support to build the business case for investing in workers by funding comprehensive return-on-investment studies in Egypt and Pakistan. The return-on-investment study was designed to make the business case for why health education for women in the apparel industry will not only improve the lives of women workers but also improve productivity and return on investment for contractors and companies that invest in such training and provision of health services. Other impacts for the business include improved communication between women workers and management; and improved compliance with issues such as the use of personal protective equipment.

The HERproject increases women’s confidence and sense of self-worth by promoting communication skills, knowledge, and leadership opportunities in the workplace. Empowering women has far reaching impacts beyond health.

How does this model practice work?

After priority areas are determined based on need and opportunity, the Foundation provides a grant to Business for Social Responsibility to work with local non-governmental (NGO) organizations to implement the HERproject in selected sites, prioritized by country and vendor. The Foundation works with the Levi Strauss Sustainability and Sourcing teams to identify suppliers that have ongoing business relationships with the company and track records of clean audits. Levi Strauss representatives meet with the suppliers to present the opportunity and potential benefit to their workforce. Once suppliers agree to participate, they meet with BSR and the local NGO to build a relationship and plan the roll-out of the initiative.

The programs target women, mostly 18-25 years of age living in urban areas for the first time, who are low income and employed within global supply chains. At the core of the HERproject are factory-based programs that provide critical health information and services to increase female factory workers’ reproductive and overall health. Health trainings are based on a peer-education methodology to increase access to information and improve existing factory clinic resources. Translated into several different languages (Chinese, Bengali, Arabic), the comprehensive, open source HERproject women’s health curriculum is designed to be conducted by peer educators, factory clinic or human resources staff, or community health workers during breaks on the factory floor.

Across all the countries HERproject has worked in, it has seen strong and consistent outcomes from its activities. Baseline and end-line health knowledge and health behavior measurement and monitoring across all of the programs demonstrate that the HERproject improves knowledge, attitudes and behavior on sexual and reproductive health issues:

  • Increased use of sanitary napkins from 16% to 56%
  • Increased belief that a baby should be born in a hospital from 41% to 80%
  • Increased use of family planning products from 40% to 60%
  • Increased knowledge of how to prevent HIV from 48% to 72%.

Improved health outcomes result in reduced health-related absenteeism, in particular related to improved nutrition, reduced diarrheal disease, and improved menstrual management.

In addition, the HERproject improves health seeking behavior and access to services:

  • Increased awareness of nearby health-clinics from 63% to 86%
  • Increased use of nearby health-clinics from 46% to 71%.

Results also documented improved utilization of factory-based nurses, who become capable of providing advice and referrals to women workers, and stronger links between women workers and health services in their communities than before.

How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?

A key enabler for scale ambitions is the suite of publicly available tools, including the HERproject Curriculum, which was primarily funded by the Levi Strauss Foundation. The HERproject Toolbuilder also became public in 2013, and best practice guidance for implementing impactful workplace programs is available on the HERproject website as well. Taken together, these tools can help suppliers and NGOs around the world implement effective workplace programs to support women.

  • The curriculum is available here: and contains the following modules:
    • Introduction: Our Health is Important
    • Eating Healthy
    • Personal Hygiene
    • Waterborne Diseases
    • Your Body and Menstruation
    • Maternal Health
    • Family Planning
    • Reproductive Cancers
    • Preventing STIs
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Malaria & Dengue Fever

Levi Strauss & Co. seeks to build the capacity of suppliers to improve the well-being of its workers – and build the management mindset that what’s good for workers is good for factories. Careful measurement of the business and social returns is a key lynchpin to supplier ownership of worker empowerment initiatives like HERproject. Over the long term, through its “Improving Worker Well-being” initiative, the company seeks to integrate these worker programs into key vendor relationships across the supply chain.

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