Timberland’s Partnership with HERproject
Timberland is proud to work with BSR on HERproject – a factory-based women’s health education program (HER stands for Health Enables Returns) – in an effort to meet the needs of workers who produce our products. BSR started the project to promote women’s health awareness and access to health services. Factory-based education programs are carried out by a coalition of partners, including international companies, their supplier factories and farms, and locally-based NGOs.
Through focus groups and surveys, HERproject and its partners assess the needs of female workers’ health and well being in emerging economies around the world. Timberland’s support for HERproject emerged from several Code of Conduct assessments that revealed little awareness of health issues among workers in our factories. Our assessments focus both on compliance with Timberland’s Code of Conduct , as well as conditions beyond factory walls – that is, whether or not workers are able to meet their basic needs and/or have opportunities for betterment of life. Within this context, Timberland began supporting HERproject in 2009 as a way to address needs for health awareness and access in specific factories in China. We have since expanded engagement to additional factories in China, as well as Vietnam and India. We are exploring new opportunities in Indonesia and Bangladesh in 2012. Overall, this program allows us to partner with our suppliers to improve worker well-being within the workplace and beyond.
Joining forces with HERproject in India
One of our more recent experiences working with HERproject began in June 2010 at the Farida Group’s factory in Ambur, Tamil Nadu, India. Management at this factory has been supportive of worker training in the past, but mostly focused on skills development, not health. Our Code of Conduct assessment revealed that health awareness was lacking in the factory. And so factory management, with support from Timberland, partnered with HERproject to improve workers’ knowledge and health behaviors. In India, HERproject is implemented by the Department of Community Health at St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore. The HERproject Curriculum has been designed by St. John’s Medical College, specifically by Dr. Bobby Joseph and his colleagues.
HERproject uses a peer education methodology that combines training with employee and management education on health and nutrition issues. At the Farida Group’s factory in Ambur, a group of women were selected as peer educators, to be trained on key general and reproductive health topics, and then to share that information with their peers.
Building on earlier surveys conducted by St. John’s Medical College, factory management in Ambur surveyed employees in more depth about specific food habits and nutritional beliefs. Workers shared what kind of food they packed for breakfast and lunch, food “fads”, and what they liked and disliked. The survey resulted in some unexpected queries from employees, such as: “Do vegetables have cold or hot effects on the body?” It was believed that pumpkins were cold and eggplants were hot. They also wanted to know what vegetables should be avoided by women during pregnancy or menstruation. These types of questions demonstrated the widely held cultural beliefs tied to food, which in some cases were negatively affecting the health of the female workforce.
The survey also showed that workers’ diets were deficient in vitamins and protein. As a result, the Farida Group decided to provide supplemental foods like carrots, beans, green leafy vegetables, sprouted grams, chickpeas, and eggs in the dining hall during lunch at no cost to workers. Factory employees were very happy about this intervention, and now better understand the need to change their eating habits not just at work, but at home with their families too.
“Initially employees were overwhelmed with this type of training, so there was shyness in the early stages and some wondering why it was being done,” reports Mukthar Ahmed , a manager at Farida. “Now, workers realize the importance of the trainings, and are eagerly asking for further information.” Following the success of the food survey, factory management has decided to conduct additional surveys to identify other areas where training would be beneficial.
According to HERproject, the factory management’s extraordinary response has made the peer educators more motivated and empowered, and, consequently, very happy to continue to share information about health improvements related to nutrition and beyond.
In Timberland’s opinion, projects like HERproject could be the future of how corporations help workers meet basic human needs that have gone unattended to for far too long. And the more companies that sign on, the better off we’ll all be.
A version of this case study will appear in the January/February 2012 issue of Global Business and Organizational Excellence, published by John Wiley & Sons.