Swedes back HER projectJanuary 2010
The Swedish government has stepped in with $1million to expand a global corporate programme that helps factories in the developing world provide healthcare advice and facilities for female employees.
The money will be used to support the HER Project, an initiative run by US-based Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in conjunction with a number of multinationals.
At present the two-year-old programme helps 40,000 women in 30 factories in six countries – China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Vietnam. The Swedish cash will go to improve these programmes and to launch new initiatives in Bangladesh and either Kenya or Tanzania, allowing the project to reach 200,000 women in at least 75 factories and farms.
Under the project, multinational companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Clarks, Columbia Sportswear, HP, Levi Strauss, Nordstrom, and Timberland work with suppliers and local NGOs to promote better health through workplace training programmes and healthcare services. The extension of the programme into Bangladesh will focus mainly on the garment sector, where 80 per cent of workers are female, and in east Africa on the agricultural and horticultural sector, where women account for around 70 per cent of the workforce.
According to an early study of the project’s benefits, factories that take part have reaped a return of $3 for every $1 invested in women’s health training and services, mainly through improved productivity and reduced absenteeism.
BSR will be recruiting new companies to join the project over the next few months.
The Swedish funding complements longstanding support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Levi Strauss Foundation. It is being channelled through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, which seeks to support and create cross-sector partnerships that aid development.
In a separate move, BSR has begun to help the government of El Salvador develop a corporate responsibility programme based around improving labour practices.
BSR has recommended a number of measures, including the introduction of fiscal incentives, tax breaks and tariff exemptions for companies that implement responsible labour practices.
Other suggestions include information-sharing on CSR through a centralized data management system, reviewing laws and regulations, and creating a strategy for establishing a public policy framework on good labour relations.
BSR has made the recommendations as part of a US government-funded project on responsible labour practices in Central America. It has offered similar advice to other Central American governments, including in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The Salvadorean administration hopes improvements on the CSR front will help the country’s competitiveness by bringing in foreign investment.
El Salvador has yet to ratify certain International Labour Organization conventions, such as on freedom of association and collective bargaining.
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