WASHINGTON — Levi Strauss & Co. is upping the ante in the corporate social responsibility arena with plans to expand a worker “well-being” program to more factories and countries.
The denim company, which launched a pilot program in five factories in five different countries in 2012, has plans to expand to 15 vendors in 12 to 15 countries this year, according to Chip Bergh, president and chief executive officer at Levi Strauss.
Bergh, who discussed the program and the expansion plans at the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s summit and in a separate interview last week, said the company is taking its “terms of engagement to the next level and focusing on workers.”
“Most of the people that work on our product are women,” Bergh said. “They live in developing markets. They are poor, but they have dreams. They have hopes. They have families. What we’re really focused on now is working with the factory owner to improve lives of the workers in their plants.”
Levi’s launched its pilot project in Bangladesh, Egypt, Cambodia, Haiti and Pakistan and has funded and worked with nongovernmental organizations on surveying workers about their most important needs.
“Believe it or not, it comes down to two simple things [that are] pretty consistent in markets where we’ve done this…financial literacy and women’s health,” Bergh said.
Bergh said women in the developing countries where Levi’s sources its production often don’t know how to save money, and if they have health problems, they often don’t go to work, which is a problem not only for the worker but also for the factory owner.
“Through simple education we can change that,” Bergh said. “So we tested it. We tested it in five different plants in five different countries and we found almost a four-to-one return on our investment.”
He said that return resulted from reducing turnover.
“They’ve gotten a more stable workforce and it’s paying dividends in the communities where these women live and work because they are now learning how to save money,” Bergh said.
Levi’s will expand to 15 new vendors, covering nearly 100,000 workers with the program and 80 percent of its product will be made in plants participating, he added, noting that the goal is to eventually encompass as many as 150,000 workers.
“We will steer business to the suppliers that support this,” Bergh said.