WaterAid conducted research over two years in ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh and leather tanneries in India.Our groundbreaking new report shows the results: investing in water, sanitation and hygiene increases productivity, improves health, reduces absenteeism and more.

This project was carried out with support from our corporate partners including Diageo, ekaterra (Unilever), Twinings, HSBC and Gap Inc.

WaterAid is also set to release additional findings from the agriculture and tea sectors at a later date.

Learn more about this pioneering report in this Q&A with Sarah Dobsevage, WaterAid’s Managing Director of Partnerships

Q. Tell us about this new data about clean water for garment workers and why it’s important.

SD: This report produced by WaterAid provides sound evidence that investing in water, sanitation and hygiene in workplaces and communities has a strong return on investment in employee health, productivity and on business. It pays to invest in employee health.

When apparel companies invest in clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for staff, businesses generate a substantial return on their investment, aligning with regulation and reputational expectations and potentially influencing change for millions of consumers. That’s huge impact, at scale.

Q. What are the topline findings of the report on the apparel and leather sectors?

SD: In India, when employees had improved access to drinking water at work (30% increase) and handwashing stations (13% increase) and access to toilets at home (10% increase), absenteeism fell by 29 percent.

In Bangladesh, before the study, employees of ready-made garment factories had no household access to toilets or running water. Today, almost a third of the households (31%) now have safe water, and 26% now have toilets. Absenteeism went down by 15%, punctuality improved by 5% and staff turnover decreased by 2%.

By far the greatest return on investment was in productivity. In Bangladesh, across three garment factories productivity will increase by a projected $7.8 million over ten years with continued investment.

Assuming a continued investment in water, sanitation and hygiene over a ten-year period, the factories in Bangladesh showed an estimated overall return on investment of $6.79 for every $1 invested; in India, the figure showed an overall return of $2 for every $1 invested.

Read the full article about investing in WASH by Sarah Kershaw at Global WA.