Beyond corporate social responsibility A Primark case study
Page 5: The value of the HERproject
Improving the health of women workers in Bangladesh and helping to empower and educate the female workforce is an important ethical goal in its own right. The benefits to communities can also been seen. Over time, initiatives like this can support key issues such as reducing infant mortality.
Factories in Bangladesh taking part in HERprojects have seen healthy returns on the money invested by Primark in the programme. This has been achieved through improvements in productivity, a more stable workforce, lower absenteeism, decreased labour turnover, improved quality and a reduction in housekeeping costs. As an example, the managing director of one factory in Bangladesh found that absenteeism in the factory fell by 55% during the first six months of the HERproject. Turnover of female workers dropped from over 50% to around 12%.
Seeing the benefits
Mrs Kaniz Fatema is the managing director of a medium-sized factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When the HERproject was introduced to her factory a year ago, she was unconvinced, viewing it as ‘just another project’. However, just one year later her view has been transformed. Women's health is now high on her agenda. A healthier workforce is literally paying dividends. Absenteeism and labour turnover are down by a startling 50%. Productivity is up and even internal staff communication is more effective. Mrs Kaniz Fatema now employs a female doctor and has set up a scheme to provide sanitary napkins to her female workers, helping to embed a new culture within the factory and allowing health education in the factory to continue after the project ends.
‘HERproject has made a real difference in my factory. The workers have increased their productivity as they are now looking after themselves better. I have become a lot closer to my female workers. I have also told other factory managers about the success of the project at our factory. The male workers are now asking when we will start a similar project for them.’ Mrs Kaniz Fatema (factory manager)
Other benefits are harder to measure but are increasingly recognised by the factory managers. Getting women to communicate effectively on health matters builds trust and confidence. This feeds back into better communication with supervisors and managers. This, in turn, leads to improved teamwork and the motivation to accept more responsibility and leadership roles in the community.
‘Workers now stay longer and are more productive. The HERproject has also helped my relationship with the women workers. They are not so shy to talk to me anymore. If there are problems, I now hear about them.’ Mr Riaz (factory manager)
This demonstrates the principles of the Hawthorne effect theory of motivation. Theorist Elton Mayo found that factory workers with long hours of routine work were motivated by someone taking an interest in them and their work. Feeling that they mattered as individuals, they experienced a new connection with the job. As a result, productivity improved. In a similar way, by focusing on the women workers and their health issues, the HERproject is also delivering improved motivation. See more on the HERproject at http://www.primark-ethicaltrading.co.uk/ourwork/c/womens_health
‘Not only has HERproject given women the knowledge to improve their health behaviour, it has empowered them to seek leadership roles in their jobs and their communities. The peer-to-peer model – with women teaching each other about women’s health – has given them the confidence to go against the grain in regions where the traditional role for women is not as strong.’ Racheal Yeager(BSR HERproject Manager)