MAS successfully achieved original commitment to the Universal Access Project of the UN Foundation (UNF), of providing health and well being, education and services to 10,000 employees ahead of the 2021 deadline.
Colombo, Sri Lanka – September 29, 2020: MAS Holdings, the largest and leading design-to-delivery apparel solutions provider in South Asia renewed its commitment today to empower more of its employees by extending its original undertaking to provide health and wellbeing education and services focusing on sexual and reproductive health; and awareness on gender-based violence, to its employees and the communities adjacent to their manufacturing locations. Having surpassed the target of 10,000 beneficiaries since its commitment in June 2019, MAS doubled its commitment to reach 20,000 beneficiaries by the original 2021 timeline. The company, headquartered in Sri Lanka, formalized their new commitment at the virtual parallel event of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly co-hosted by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) and the Universal Access Project of the UN Foundation (UNF).
MAS Holdings was one of 11 trailblazing global companies that committed to improving the health and wellbeing of its workers and community members around the world in 2019 through the UNF’s Universal Access Project and its Private Sector Action for Women’s Health and Empowerment Initiative. The company outlined bold, measurable and time-bound plans to empower its employees through highly focused programmes on women’s health, sexual and reproductive health and rights and on gender-based violence, anchored to its globally acclaimed hallmark women’s empowerment platform, ‘Women Go Beyond’ in alignment with SDGs 3 and 5, among others.
A Legacy Anchored in Women’s Empowerment
With women making up 70% of the company’s 99,000 global workforce, MAS Holdings identified a fundamental requirement to support and empower its female employees very early in its operation, before it was defined as a corporate responsibility. Stand-alone initiatives that helped women, soon started showing results and began to scale into larger, long-term programmes. MAS began to invest heavily in women’s career development, skill development and more importantly in their health and wellbeing, creating awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights, menstrual health, nutrition, pre and post-natal care and issues surrounding gender-based violence.
In 2003, all empowerment and gender equality initiatives came under the Women Go Beyond (WGB) banner that also gave the company a powerful platform to recognize and reward its women on their achievements, a powerful element that pushed WGB and MAS to the global limelight as a pioneer of ethical business practices; WGB has provided over 300,000 opportunities for its employees and their families since its inception, highlighting women’s empowerment as the foundation of economic stability in Sri Lanka and the region. Women who treated their jobs as transitory in nature found new meaning in their careers, discovering not only untapped intellectual capacities and skillsets, but also economic freedom, autonomy and self-confidence.
Progress of Commitments in 2020
While COVID-19 resulted in catastrophic economic and health impacts around the world, MAS was able to leverage its existing WGB framework to reach out to female employees and support them through multi-faceted programmes that also addressed possible escalations of domestic and gender-based violence (GBV) during pandemic-related lockdowns. MAS Holdings was able to enhance the quality of its existing health-related WGB programmes provided for all employees in 2019 while also introducing highly focused programmes on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), non-communicable diseases (NCD) and life skills through its 2019 commitment.
In addition to the health and wellness programmes focusing on hygiene, nutrition, family planning, pre and post-natal care, that have been carried out over the last decade, MAS has partnered with the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka to train in-house trainers to deliver workshops on sexual and reproductive health and rights and NCDs,. This enabled both male and female employees to share this comprehensive knowledge in their communities to create awareness.
Another such new initiative focuses on equipping in-house counselors and human resources executives with ‘skills to better address cases of domestic violence and GBV, including an understanding of the legal framework surrounding GBV. A Legal Rights Awareness Programme conducted at an MAS facility in Bangladesh educated 2,800 women on domestic violence as a consequence of early marriage and provided legal aid for those affected.
MAS’ social sustainability strategy is well aligned with its business strategy and is driven by its senior leadership. Dedicated teams across the Group work on identified focus areas and drive necessary interventions to address the many gaps in access, education and services faced by women across global locations.
Other notable programmes include the company’s Aloka Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative that saw the company partner with the Sri Lanka Cancer Society to conduct awareness sessions on breast cancer, symptom detection and self-examination. The programme educated 6,939 employees and trained 132 more employees on lump-detection, elevating company-wide benchmarks in health and wellbeing expertise.
Additionally, a total number of 1,167 female employees of MAS graduated from the Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) programme launched by Gap Inc. nurturing their professional and leadership skills..
2021 and Beyond
“We are proud to announce the expansion of our commitment to the UNF’s Universal Access Project and its Private Sector Action for Women’s Health and Empowerment.,” Deputy General Manager of Women’s Empowerment, Advocacy and Code of Conduct, Thanuja Jayawardene said during the virtual event. “Gender equality is a core value for us as an organization and we have an expansive framework to drive this agenda, focusing on economic, social and personal empowerment. We see health, wellbeing and freedom from gender-based violence as basic requirements, to developing female leaders for our businesses and our communities. This is a journey and we have a long way to go, implementing meaningful change.”
As MAS Holdings fast adapts and recovers in a post-COVID landscape, it lies tethered to its founding value of first and foremost being responsible for the safety, health and wellbeing of its employees. While the company adjusts to the new normal, it remains optimistic of achieving its new targets despite the obstacles and global industry turmoil, taking sustainable action to educate, encourage, empower and celebrate its women.