Fairer Fashion Begins with Better Access to Water & Toilets For Workers in Clothing Supply Chains

Ian Gavin is WaterAid’s Regional Programme Manager, who attended last week’s Hong Kong Fashion Summit

By Ian Gavin
HONG KONG, Sep 10 2019 – Last year, WaterAid and HSBC launched a programme that delivers essential water, sanitation and hygiene services (known collectively as WASH) to apparel factories and nearby worker communities in Bangladesh and India.

The supply chains projects ensure that the investments in WASH extend beyond the workplace, improving not only the health and quality of life for workers and their families, but also increasing supply chain resilience and business productivity. Sustainable water use means more sustainable fashion through fairer working environments.

Meet Momena, whose life has been transformed by the simple yet vital introduction of clean water, decent toilets and somewhere to wash her hands whilst at work, thanks to WaterAid’s work.

Momena Khatun, 32, works as a sewing operator at a ready-made garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her husband Kabir Mia also works in the factory and, although the family faces struggles financially, their two sons attend school, improving their life-chances for the future.

WaterAid, together with the factory owners, had already lowered water-abstraction rates through the construction of rainwater-harvesting systems. The next focus moved to improve access to drinking water, toilets and handwashing facilities not only in the factory, but also at home – where the situation is invariably far worse.

The family’s rented room in Naraynaganj, south-east of Dhaka, is convenient for work, but the standard of living in the building was dire. There were only two toilets for the entire block of at least 40 people, and they were filthy, unhygienic and hazardous.

To make matters worse, there was nowhere to wash your hands. Unsurprisingly, the children often prefered to go outside instead, increasing their vulnerability to diarrhoeal diseases, sickness and days off school.

With no other option, every morning the tenants argued over who was next in line for the bathrooms. Every day, Momena faced the grim choice of either being late for work, which reflected negatively on her performance; or leaving home without going to the toilet at all, ultimately leading to health problems and pain.

That horrendous situation has now changed. WaterAid, with funding from HSBC, has renovated the facilities in this tenancy and others like it. Three new toilet facilities have recently been constructed, all with separate cubicles for men and women, ensuring dignity, safety and privacy. In addition, the residents now have segregated bathing facilities with handwashing facilities and safe drinking water points.

“Separate female toilets and bathing facilities have dramatically changed our living conditions for the better! We faced real difficulties in using toilets in the morning in front of men”, explained Momena.

“Now I am comfortable and not hesitant to use the toilets and take showers when I need. The new look and cleanliness of the toilet and hygiene messages have encouraged us to maintain our toilets well. I am very happy and thankful to the project for their support to our community”.

A feeling of ownership of these new facilities has increased their chances of being properly managed and sustainably maintained. With this in mind, both the tenants and landlords were fully engaged in the project, and they discussed how everyone can play a part in ensuring the new water, sanitation and hygiene facilities remain hygienic and clean.

This renovation work has undoubtedly been transformational. The enhanced living conditions – now giving the garment workers access to clean water and decent sanitation facilities – have made a huge impact on the community’s lives. Now, Momena has a smoother morning bathroom routine and is rarely late for work.

Clean water, sanitation and hygiene have the power to change-for-good millions of lives like Momena’s. She and her community now have the potential to live healthy, productive and dignified lives.

WaterAid is leading work to improve WASH provision in the factory where Momena works. This collective work by WaterAid, funded by HSBC, will enable the trial and testing of the financial return on investment in these basic human rights of water and sanitation.

Filed in: Latest World News

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