Marking the 25th anniversary of its benchmark supplier code of conduct, called Terms of Engagement, Levi Strauss & Co. is making a commitment to expand the company’s Worker Well-being initiative within and outside the company.
By 2020, Levi’s aims to produce 80 percent of its merchandise in Worker Well-being factories that employ 200,000 people. By 2025, the company aims to expand Worker Well-being to reach more than 300,000 workers, implementing the program with all key vendors.
In addition to these targets, the company said it will share with the industry its Worker Well-being best practices, tools and standards in a move to exponentially increase the reach and impact of the program. Open sourcing best practices in this way has proven effective in driving outsized impact and system-level change, the company said.
“Our intent for the Worker Well-being initiative is to continue to serve as a catalyst to transform the apparel industry by setting a new standard for valuing and investing in apparel workers’ lives,” said Chip Bergh, president and chief executive officer of San Fransisco-based Levi Strauss. “We have seen that when we lead, others follow. From our terms of engagement in 1991, to sharing our chemical management system with other brands, to open-sourcing our Water Less finishing techniques earlier this year, Levi Strauss can influence the way other companies do business and create a larger impact by sharing how we do business.”
Levi’s feels its Worker Well-being program represents a groundbreaking shift in how companies address the needs of workers who make their products. Launched in 2011, the initiative moves beyond the basic labor compliance model and aims to collaborate with suppliers to improve the lives of apparel workers in locations where the company’s products are made. The program has created sustainable business and social benefits at all levels of the supply chain, including a four-to-one return on investment for some programs.
Levi’s has aimed to show suppliers that healthy, financially literate workers are more productive, which contributes to the bottom line through reduced absenteeism and higher retention rates. These results spur investment in programs from suppliers themselves, which has taken Worker Well-being beyond the company’s initial targets.
Levi’s is taking things a step further. Through a grant from the Levi Strauss Foundation, Harvard’s Sustainability and Health Initiative for Net Positive Enterprise program based at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will develop a universal Worker Well-being measurement tool kit for the wider manufacturing industry. The tool kit is meant to provide suppliers with a dashboard, which will also be shared publicly, to track key performance indicators around workers’ overall levels of engagement, health and well-being beyond typical business measures. This will allow suppliers to better understand and analyze the impact of well-being on their workers and business in real time.
“Building a strategy and tool for suppliers to understand and actively monitor worker well-being represents a new chapter for the apparel industry,” said Eileen McNeely, co-director of SHINE. “The uptake of the well-being strategy starts with the vision, moves with the metrics and sustains over time with proof that businesses, workers, families and communities benefit from enhanced well-being. We see a huge potential for this approach to create positive social impact and the next industry standard.”
Before implementing any programs or solutions, the company starts by surveying factory workers to hear firsthand what they need to become more engaged, healthy and productive employees. Then, Levi’s and its vendors partner with local and national nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations to implement programs to meet the needs of workers. Programs generally focus on financial empowerment, health and family well-being and equality and acceptance, but are flexible to workers’ changing needs.