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Mastercard is teaming with Levi Strauss & Co., VF Corp. and Marks & Spencer on a program to help digitalize garment worker pay. Globally, most garment workers are low-income women who “lack access to the financial tools and services that can help them and their families thrive,” the company said today.

The companies are working together with the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility to create pilot programs in Egypt and Cambodia anchored by a “hybrid digital payment solution.”

“Participating factories will have the opportunity to deposit wages directly into workers’ accounts,” Mastercard said in a statement. “Workers can then activate debit or prepaid cards — or digital wallets — through which they can pay bills or send money directly to family and friends.”

The program also involves financial planning and management training as well as workshops on how to “discuss finances with family members” with the aim of helping make workers “feel comfortable and confident transacting digitally.”

Globally, women make up 68 percent of all garment workers. And according to a report from the International Growth Centre, 75 percent of women garment workers around the world lack financial literacy.

Mastercard noted that 230 million adult workers in the global private sector are paid cash wages. “But getting paid in cash creates significant challenges for both employees and factory owners,” the company said. “Not only are workers at risk for theft, but they also have limited ability to save and often have to take days off to travel miles to pay household bills.”

Sue Kelsey, executive vice president of prepaid solutions at Mastercard, said the company’s vision is to “ultimately build a new ecosystem of partners — garment industry, technology, not-for-profit organizations, factories, banks — that work together to deliver social impact at scale.”

“It’s an important step in helping workers feel safer, be more resilient and more financially independent,” she said. “We’re committed to help digitize wages throughout supply chains across industries and continents, turning access into usage and in turn, fueling growth of local economies.”

Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., said the brand was looking forward to seeing “the outcomes of the pilot and hope this advances efforts to realize the potential of digital payments to benefit workers across apparel supply chains.”

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