Access to clean water, decent toilets and handwashing facilities for employees at work, in supply chains and within employees’ communities is essential.

It strengthens the health and wellbeing of the workforce, cuts medical and sick pay costs, and boosts staff motivation and productivity. It is also a way for companies to raise their brand value, build resilience and reduce risks in the supply chain.

Between 2018 and 2022, WaterAid – in collaboration with Diageo, Gap Inc., HSBC, Twinings and ekaterra (which was part of Unilever when this project started) – conducted a first-of-its kind research project to show the business benefits of investing in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The project set out to test our theory around quantifying business benefits and generate robust evidence of the financial value of investing in WASH, to encourage more companies to invest directly in their own business facilities and leverage their influence to persuade suppliers to act.

Data was collected from ten workplaces in four different sectors across four countries: tea estates in India and Kenya, apparel and leather supply chains in Bangladesh and India, and agricultural smallholder farmers in Tanzania.

The project looked at the effect WASH has on productivity, absenteeism, attrition, punctuality and the number of medical incidents at each workplace. Where possible, a return on investment was calculated – along with projections for investment over a ten-year period – and valuable insights were identified for how to best ensure WASH facilities, promote productivity and drive other business benefits so that companies, brands and suppliers see the positive impact.

Boosting business
Everyone, everywhere has the right to water and sanitation – at home, in their community and at work. Our research in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment factories, in India’s tanneries and in their employees' communities shows that investment in these facilities should be seen as a core business priority with a ripple effect far beyond the bottom line.  

Explore the reports below to discover the return on investment of ensuring WASH facilities in a variety of workplaces and supply chains.

Boosting business - summary impact report

Everyone, everywhere has the right to water and sanitation – at home and at work. Our research shows that investing in these facilities should not be seen as another costly business expense, but a sound investment with a ripple effect far beyond the bottom line.

Image: WaterAid/ Sam Vox

Leather tanneries in India

Improvements to three tanneries in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, resulted in a 29% decrease in employee absenteeism, a 1.59% increase in productivity and a 5.97% increase in punctuality.

Image: WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee

Garment factories in Bangladesh

Improvements to WASH facilities in three ready-made garment factories in Narayanganj resulted in a 35% increase in product quality, a 15% decrease in employee absenteeism and a 19% decrease in medical costs.

Image: WaterAid

Tea estates in India

In this pilot project, productivity at both tea estates increased by 27% and medical incidences decreased by 5%. Improved service provision and hygiene training led to a 23% decrease in open defecation in remote parts of the estates.

Image: WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee

Tea estates in Kenya

In this project, there was a 37% increase in the proportion of tea pickers washing their hands at work, and the frequency they did so increased too – nearly doubling from 2.8 to 5.3 times a day at the end of the project.

Image: WaterAid/ Edgar Kemboy

Smallholder farmers in Tanzania

This pilot study gave valuable insights on implementing WASH in agricultural settings, from the impact of climate change to the importance of collaboration. The research revealed valuable lessons for building a long-term strategy and a holistic approach to WASH.

Image: WaterAid/ Sam Vox

Everyone, everywhere has a human right to water and sanitation – at home, in their community and at work.

If businesses, governments and civil society work together, we can fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals and achieve 100% access to safe and sustainable WASH by 2030.

To build a strong business, take the following actions:

  • Make informed WASH investments in the workplace, supply chains and communities.
  • Seek expert advice and work with an implementing partner to learn how your organisation can benefit from WASH intervention.
  • Draw on best practice from WASH4WORK and the WASH community.
  • Understand the private sector’s role in managing and mitigating social, economic and environmental risks.
  • Make sustainable WASH a unique selling point of your business.

To find out how your company could benefit from WASH investment contact [email protected]

Top image: Shri Ram, an employee of the Superhouse tannery in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, India, says his health has improved after getting reliable access to handwashing facilities and drinking water at work.