Wal-Mart will look to empower women working for its suppliers

Wal-Mart will look to empower women working for its suppliers

US retail giant Wal-Mart today (5 March) revealed details of a new five-year initiative aimed at empowering 60,000 women working at its supplier factories in India, Bangladesh, China and Central America - which should also lead to higher quality products and lower prices.

The Women in Factories programme will teach critical life skills related to communication, hygiene, reproductive health, occupational health and safety, the retailer says. Up to 8,000 women will also receive leadership training to develop the work and life skills necessary for personal and career development.

The programme will be rolled out to 150 factories in India, Bangladesh, China and Central America over the next five years, initially launching in Bangladesh and India in 2012. It is designed and implemented in collaboration with CARE in Bangladesh and SWASTI in India, and will be evaluated by Northwestern University in partnership with DAI and Mission Measurement.

Meredith Menhennett, senior manager of ethical sourcing at Wal-Mart, and in charge of the training programme, told just-style the retailer will fund the programme for two years, after which it should become self-sustaining.

"During the two years of funding that the foundation give, the first round of training will be conducted by our NGO partners, and at the same time they will be teaching and mentoring the HR team to continue the programme," says Menhennett.

"The second round of leadership will be conducted by the factory with the active support and teaching of the NGO partners. And they will continue to have the NGO and Wal-Mart's support."

While the retailer is emphasising the social benefits of the scheme, it also expects there will be positive business impacts as well. Menhennett notes the nutrition element, for example, will help to reduce illness and worker absenteeism, which will have a positive impact on the companies they're working for.

"Empowering women not only improves their lives but it is also good for customers and business across the industry," adds Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of Home for Walmart.

"By educating and empowering women in factories and creating a stronger supply chain, suppliers realise greater efficiencies in their factories, which should result in higher quality products, lower prices and more reliable product availability for customers."