Note: This is the second blog in a three-part series highlighting the impact of HERproject in Bangladesh. The first blog explored impacts within and beyond factory walls through the stories of HERproject peer educators. This blog shares a participating brands’ perspective on health and business impacts she has seen, and the third blog profiles one of our NGO partners.
Rehana is the managing director of a medium-sized factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, producing for Primark. When we introduced HERproject to her factory almost a year ago, she was unconvinced, viewing it as “just another project.” As our industry moves beyond auditing, Rehana’s opinion is not uncommon. For many factory managers, complaints of “project fatigue” have replaced those of “audit fatigue.”
But last month, as I stood in Rehana’s factory, it felt like a very different picture. Rehana’s team had conducted its own return-on-investment study, highlighting an incredible 50 percent reduction in absenteeism and worker turnover. Overhead costs for cleaning factory toilets and floors had fallen. Communication had improved. Productivity had increased. Workers were using personal protective equipment. One afternoon, as we gathered at the factory, Rehana signed a memorandum of understanding with a local company to supply sanitary napkins to the factory, allowing the women to purchase them at a reduced price.
When we returned to the UK, Rehana emailed us with more news: She had employed a female doctor who would be responsible for managing HERproject. The trainings were now mandatory for her factory and would continue after the project had ended.
Interestingly, compliance overall at this factory has also improved. While I think we should be wary of attributing this directly to the HERproject, the correlation between improved workplace communications/relationships and factory compliance is strong and makes for a convincing argument.
Another person who sticks in my mind from our trip to Bangladesh is Kulsum Habiba, a quality inspector who became a peer educatorat another factory in Dhaka. She’s confident, bright, and articulate about what she has learned through HERproject and the impacts she has seen in her factory and in her local community.
At a HERproject convening this month, Habiba stood, took the microphone, and challenged factory managers to formally recognise peer educators through certification, compensation, and career opportunities.
What I like about both these stories is that the two women involved had taken action. They were from different social backgrounds, and they worked in very different roles within their respective factories, but if the HERproject is about empowering women to stand, find their voice, and take action on their own terms, then both these women can serve as great role models for how the HERproject can enable long-term, home-grown success.