Through its work with BSR and participation in BSR’s HERproject, ANN, parent company of Ann Taylor, LOFT, and Lou & Grey, was able to set—and achieve—its commitment to empower 100,000 women in its global supply chain community between 2012 and 2018.
ANN is a purpose-driven company that aims to help women “put their best selves forward every day.” Women comprise more than 70 percent of ANN’s supply chain labor force, and company leaders recognized this opportunity to help improve the lives of those women who are manufacturing their products.
ANN therefore set out to deepen its investments in women’s empowerment in supply chains. ANN started its partnership with BSR’s HERproject in 2012. Following discussions between BSR and company leaders, in 2014, ANN made its pioneering 100,000 Women Commitment, through which the company committed to empowering 100,000 women working in its global supply chain community.
BSR worked with ANN’s Corporate Responsibility team to design and implement a strategy to realize its bold commitment.
The first pillar of this strategy was a deepened investment in HERproject—BSR’s flagship women’s empowerment initiative, which uses peer-to-peer training to enable women workers to acquire and share knowledge and skills on health and financial literacy. HERproject brings together international companies, their suppliers, and local partners to deliver workplace-based trainings that increase women’s knowledge and self-esteem, while also strengthening management systems to create inclusive workplaces. ANN expanded its work with HERproject to include 58 factories in China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
In addition, through this partnership, ANN was instrumental in designing and implementing a new iteration of the HERproject platform, the “HERnetwork” methodology, implemented by “HERtoolkit.” HERnetwork and HERtoolkit were created to train local NGOs on the HERproject, allowing them to implement HERproject programs independently. Through the HERtoolkit, we were able to increase the reach of the trainings to women that would not have otherwise had access to these programs, and work toward sustaining the program as another resource for factories to use to reach the women.
Importantly, ANN became the first U.S. women’s specialty retailer to commit to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs)—seven principles that provide a holistic framework to empower women in the workplace, marketplace, and community. ANN committed to integrating these principles into its responsible sourcing practices to ensure its supply chain supports women. In 2018 ANN, under the umbrella of the ascena retail group, launched a revised Code of Conduct for suppliers that incorporates a gender lens, which ensures that specific obstacles that women workers face are incorporated into the company’s expectations of suppliers.
Our Outcomes and Impact
In March 2018, ANN announced that it had achieved and surpassed its 100,000 Women Commitment earlier than expected.
Through the widescale implementation of HERproject across six countries, more than 2,800 peer educators were trained, which led to a sharing of knowledge and skills with more than 104,000 women.
These outcomes led to impressive results for workers in ANN’s supply chain. Specifically, ANN and HERproject have measured the following:
- A 38 percentage point increase among women that have performed a self-examination to recognize symptoms of breast cancer
- A 26 percentage point increase among women in the use of sanitary napkins rather than scraps of cloth from the factory
- A 25 percentage point increase among women in awareness that HIV can be prevented
- A 50 percentage point increase among individuals in the feeling that they will be able to meet their families’ future expenses in the next two years
In addition, the 100,000 Women Commitment has helped suppliers of ANN improve their performance. ANN and HERproject have measured a 4.5 percentage point decrease in turnover and a 22 percentage point decrease in products requiring rework, signaling stronger efficiency and accuracy in products made by these women across 37 factories in six countries.
ANN also engaged its customers in this effort by communicating in stores, multimedia, and through a microsite about the ongoing success of the project.
The 100,000 Women Commitment demonstrated the motivating power of a bold commitment. Such a commitment enabled ANN to mobilize its key stakeholders and ensure continued investment in its supply chain women’s empowerment programs.
The implementation of the commitment also reinforced the power of the peer-to-peer methodology for reaching large numbers of women workers in global supply chains.
Finally, the project highlighted how investing in women generates positive returns—for women, their families, and their communities. The positive impacts on women’s health and financial behavior were also mirrored by positive business impacts for suppliers. HERproject gives suppliers the framework and the guidance to share knowledge on healthcare and financial literacy with their workers. The suppliers have taken ownership of the program by customizing it to meet their workers’ needs, whether through health fairs or having local doctors come in and run health clinics or nutritional sessions for men and women. As a result, ANN has strengthened its relationships with its suppliers and developed a model for generating systemic improvements for workers in global supply chains.