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It is often said that an empowered woman can lead to happy families, successful team projects, and a flourishing economy.

BSR_HERproject_1With women increasingly accounting for a higher proportion of our workforce — and supply chain — empowering them with healthy alternatives, training and access to medical information is critical. BSR’s HERproject has a similar objective in mind. The project, built around private-public partnerships, believes that businesses that invest in educating and empowering women in the workplace enjoy higher efficiencies, lower absenteeism and turnover rates, and higher return on investments.

In fact, “BSR’s HERproject has demonstrated the power of providing women’s reproductive health education in the workplace to transform individual lives, workplaces, and communities,” says Marcus Chung, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Talbots, a women’s apparel, shoes and accessories retailer.

Chung, in partnership with BSR’s Racheal Yeager, will lead a session at the upcoming Ethical Sourcing Forum in New York on some of the results, challenges and lessons learned from collaborating closely on implementing HERproject in Talbots’ contract factories.

Public-Private Partnerships to Drive Women Empowerment

Talbots has partnered with BSR since 2010 on creating, investing in and implementing curriculum to educate female garment workers around the world. What makes partnerships like these tougher to implement – but much more critical to push for – is that these workers are not Talbots employees – and the factories are not owned by Talbots either.

Return on Investment: BSR's HERproject“HERproject emphasizes partnering with local NGOs to deliver training to high potential workers, who in turn become internal trainers. We focus on health and nutrition issues which ultimately lead to increased confidence and competency among the workforce,” he says.

Chung admitted that besides higher rates of productivity, participation and loyalty, these exercises also help discern high potential candidates for leadership opportunities.

So far Talbots has launched the project in its factories in China, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

An Educated & Healthy Employee

There are some side benefits too, he agrees. “At one factory in Vietnam, management told me that other factories’ workers were approaching them to ask how they could join the factory to take advantage of the educational and training opportunities,” he says.

They have since seen higher rates of applications pour in.

For Talbots – a women-centric brand – this initiative has been crucial in driving social impact and demonstrating worker responsibility. But, according to Chung, it is much more than that. “HERproject also made it very easy for us to scale and take our philanthropic platform across our factories in a very real way,” he says.

“Of course it also helps with vendor dialogues: Our conversations with our suppliers and vendors used to be restricted to garment costing and quality. Now we have much more dynamic conversations.”

For retailers and manufacturers, HERproject, he says, offers a practical way of working with nonprofit partners and internal champions to bridge the complex cultural and economic divides that surround a global company’s supply chain.

Statistics have shown that a woman shunned is a dangerous woman. While an educated and empowered woman invests in the future and drives change for her family, herself, and her employer. Who wouldn’t want such a powerful employee on your side?

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary sectionTalkback on March 1, 2011.