Friday, 11 March 2011

Empowering women is just plain good business sense

By Noshua Watson

Empowering women in developing countries isn’t a special interest, it’s good business sense. In honour of the centenary of International Women’s Day, I feel it is important to continue to emphasise the inequalities in economic opportunity that continue based on gender. Fully including and valuing the majority of Earth’s population as producers, not just as consumers, is ethical AND efficient.

MAS Holdings, an apparel manufacturer in Sri Lanka created the MAS Women Go Beyond Programme as part of their ethical branding scheme. Go Beyond provided MAS’ seamstresses with career development programmes, health and lifestyle education, entrepreneurship training and peer recognition and awards.

MAS Holdings identified the economic status of women as its realm of social impact because more than 90 per cent of their workforce were women, of whom an overwhelming majority came from low income families. Given their relationship to local communities and the unstable political situation in Sri Lanka, taking steps to secure the welfare of their female employees and in turn the larger community, seemed like a natural progression.

Before Go Beyond, MAS already provided transportation to work, ample bathroom breaks, free meals and classes, in contrast with conventional sweatshop models of apparel production. Implementing the Go Beyond programme increased costs by 3 or 4 per cent, yet resulted in greater profits for the company, due to higher productivity, lower downtime, increased efficiency and decreased absenteeism.

Empowering women was a means to financial success and development impact for MAS Holdings. MAS went beyond treating their workers well and took the time to understand the social, political and economic forces that defined their workers’ lives and living conditions. For MAS, in Sri Lanka, one of the defining forces was gender. And that is still the case for more companies than you know.

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