Timberland (owned by VF Corporation) — a US footwear and apparel company — has a significant supplier workforce in Bangladesh, with female workers comprising most of the labour force. Civil society reports show that women in Bangladesh continue to face pervasive violence, harassment, rape and torture. In 2002, to tackle low levels of awareness regarding women’s rights, Timberland began its partnership with one of their largest apparel suppliers, the YoungOne Corporation, CARE Bangladesh and Mamata, a local NGO, on an awareness raising and microfinance programme. YoungOne is a garment manufacturer that operates 14 factories in Bangladesh. The project was designed to reach 24,000 YoungOne female garment workers in the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ), connecting them to financial products and services intended to economically empower them.
By 2008, 4,739 workers also received training on women’s rights, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking. By gaining access to microcredit, female workers and their family members have been able to open small businesses or purchase land to grow food. Since the end of this programme, Timberland has continued its cooperation with Mamata to implement further programmes that benefit female employees.
Since May 2012, the company has partnered with BSR, Mamata and Pou Hung Industrial Ltd., a factory in Chittagong, on HERproject, an initiative that strives to empower low-income women working in global supply chains. One of the programmes was designed to increase women’s health awareness. Due to these programmes, 95% of female workers interviewed said that they were aware of local health clinics and used them, in comparison to 60% during the baseline. There was also a greater awareness of pregnancy check-ups and 53.4% reduction in the number of absent days per person.