Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the Workplace

Billions of people without safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is an unacceptable situation for human, social and economic development, which violates basic requirements of human dignity and safety and has enormous impact on people’s health, education, and capacity to lead fully productive lives.

This is incompatible with WBCSD's vision 2050 of 9 billion people living well within the limits of the planet, nor with the human right to water and sanitation. A first step in accelerating action from business is to obtain company commitment to ensure appropriate access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all employees in all premises under company control. Longer term vision is to go beyond the fence to advocate for access for all employees along the value chain and ultimately employee homes and communities where employees live.


By signing this pledge companies commit to: implementing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene at the workplace at an appropriate level of standard for all employees in all premises under their control within three years after signature. 


WASH at the workplace Pledge – CEO call to action

Who's committed?

Note: in addition to these companies, a number of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) have committed to the WASH Pledge. 

Implementation case studies

Électricité de France (EDF)
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Employees – The Nam Theun II Experience

This case study provides implementation details by focusing on the Nam Theun II dam in Laos, a leading practice example when it comes to EDF’s construction sites. Besides giving a concrete overview of what implementing the Pledge means in practice – showing that implementation can be efficient albeit very simple – such a successful story demonstrates the “applicability” of the Pledge to mobile remote worksites in which the Pledge implementation is less straightforward than in factories or offices.

A strong business case

It is estimated that more than 1.8 billion people are still without access to safe drinking water [1] and more than 4 billion lack access to adequate sanitation[2] Moreover, it has been showed that the simple act of washing hands with soap can significantly cut the risk of diarrhea by approximately 40 percent [3]. Many businesses have operations, employees, contractors and customers in countries lacking access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Their economic, social and environmental impacts can cause illness or fatalities, impair productivity, and restrict markets for some products and services. There is a compelling and clear economic case for businesses to demonstrate leadership by addressing this situation.

Investing in safe WASH for employees leads to: 

  • Healthier and more productive workforce: Adequate access to safe WASH is associated with decreased absenteeism due to water-related diseases, and thus improved productivity.
  • Increased brand value: Provision of access to safe WASH to all employees can also lead to tangible benefits, such as improved public perception, and thus increased brand value.
  • Lower reputational risks and more secured social license to operate: Perceived mismanagement of water resources or infringement on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation can negatively impact businesses and possibly result in revoking the company’s social license to operate within certain communities. Good water management and provision of safe WASH allows them to lower this risk.
  • Expanded and more vibrant markets: Countries with higher percentages of the population with access to safe WASH enjoy higher growth. It is estimated that for every US$ 1 invested in water and sanitation, US$ 4.30 is generated in economic returns through increased productivity.
  • Demonstration of leadership in supporting global objectives: Ensuring safe WASH at the workplace contributes to the achievement of internationally recognized objectives such as the universal realization of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. 
Interview with Virginia Roaf, United-Nations

Virginia is the Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. 

1. You have been working on the Handbook for realizing the rights to water and sanitation which compiles findings and recommendations from the mandate of Catarina de Albuquerque as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (HRWS).

In which ways do you believe the Pledge for access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at the workplace can contribute to the realization of the HRWS?

While often we talk about access to water and sanitation at home, and this is what the UNICEF / WHO Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) monitors for the MDGs, it cannot be underestimated how important it is for economic development generally, and specifically for women, to have access to these services at the workplace. While many countries will have regulations that govern WASH at the workplace, these are seldom monitored. This Pledge will help to raise awareness of the importance of the issue, and hopefully have a significant impact on access levels.

Overall, I are very pleased to see the business community also stepping up to the plate and committing resources to making this right a reality.

2. What are the main obstacles preventing the full realization of the HRWS? How can businesses contribute to overcoming them?

One of the main obstacles is simply recognizing the importance of WASH services for any country's development, and then acting on that to ensure access for all, including those who are disadvantaged or marginalized. Businesses, particularly those employing people for lower-paid work, can ensure that the health and dignity of men and women is protected also at the workplace. So through this Pledge, businesses are recognizing the importance of water and sanitation for their workforce, and for women, adequate access to facilities that allow menstrual hygiene management. 

3. What incentives can be provided by States and local authorities to ensure that businesses respect human rights, including the HRWS

Obviously one important step would be for States to use their regulatory frameworks or codes of employment to ensure that businesses respect human rights - including the rights to water and sanitation through the provision of adequate facilities, but also other requirements, such as number of hours worked, unfair dismissal etc. These are not so much incentives as legal requirements. But perhaps there are other ideas that could be explored, such as Awards or Seals of good practice, that a business earns and can use to promote their business as human rights compliant.  Financial incentives can also be thought of, for example in terms of tax-breaks or reductions in the tariff paid for water used by staff for personal hygiene.

4. Are you aware of any other practical business engagements in implementing the HRWS at global scale?

As far as I am aware, this Pledge is the only one that is working to ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation at the workplace, but of course water is a key aspect of most businesses, and securing a safe and reliable water resource is crucial. This has led to extensive discussion about priorities, between business and community needs, particularly in those cases where businesses have not taken sufficient (or any) notice of local requirements in negotiating access to water resources. This is being addressed by some businesses, and this is an issue that the CEO Water Mandate is concerned about. However, I think that there is a long way to go in ensuring that domestic uses of water are prioritized over other uses.

5. In your opinion, what shall be the next steps for businesses, once access to safe WASH at the workplace has been achieved?

Well, as suggested above - I think that there is a long way to go before all businesses behave responsibly with respect to water use. But ultimately I don't believe it is the responsibility of businesses to resolve this challenge alone - governments have to be a lot more proactive in protecting the people living within their jurisdiction. I hope that the rights to water and sanitation can also help to clarify some of these issues, in legal as well as in practical terms. 

Interview with Carlo Galli, Nestlé
Carlo Galli is Water Resources Technical and Strategic Advisor at Nestlé
1. In your opinion, what are the 3 main arguments for a company to sign the Pledge for access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at the workplace? What was the specific business case for Nestlé?
  • Caring for our people
  • WASH at workplace is the basic for a company to prove leadership in its water stewardship journey
  • For us at Nestlé, signing the Pledge simply means putting in practice our Corporate Business Principles and reiterating our public Commitments on Water Stewardship. 

2. Could you provide examples of improvements that were identified within your company to comply with the Pledge? How is your company planning to tackle them?

We are just at the beginning of our journey to roll-out the WASH Pledge across all our operations. In our first attempts to self-assess our performance vis-à-vis the Pledge, we have confirmed that Standard WASH practices in our facilities are good level, whilst we also have learned that minor gaps can always be identified and recovered with planning of action points for improvements.      

3. How do you perceive the role of Nestlé in the promotion of the Pledge within your peer industry?

Forerunners show the way. We feel that our example will help other companies to do the same and join the journey.

4. Has Nestlé already engaged or is planning to engage in value chain promotion of the Pledge? If yes, could you share how?

We are tracking history of WASH initiatives already implemented in communities adjacent to selected manufacturing facilities and in locations where we procure key agricultural commodities.

5. Overall how do you perceive the role of global corporations in supporting the acceleration and scaling up of water, sanitation and hygiene solutions?

We believe that local governments have the duty to support the human right to water and sanitation for their citizens. Nevertheless business has a role to play mainly respecting the access to water and sanitation, and also supporting it in selected locations within their sphere of influence (see above for Nestlé). 


For more information, to share your experience or to get involved contact Sara Traubel, traubel@wbcsd.org.


New initiative introduced on World Water Day support busienss action towards the SDG on universal access to water and sanitation                                                               Today is World Water Day. This year’s theme, Water and Jobs highlights that nearly all jobs and businesses depend on water, yet 38 workers die every hour from water-related diseases. Read more

Act today to contribute to universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene
November 19 is World Toilet Day. It may sound like a joke, but in many parts of the world, this is a serious issue. One third of the world’s population lacks access to a safe toilet.
Read more

The WASH Pledge is referenced in the new publication by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque: Realising the human rights to water and sanitation: A handbook (see Booklet 4, page 29)

Implementation stories

Tony Henshaw from the Aditya Birla Group explains how the WASH Pledge provisions were rolled out to a conglomerate of over 120,000 employees:

Listen to Tom Albanese, CEO of Vedanta Resources, explain why the company signed the WASH Pledge:

Stefano Gardi from Italcementi tells us why the WASH Pledge triggers steady, concrete action within companies from Day 1:

Hear about why Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, a 50% state-owned company, signed the Pledge:

Discover how the WASH Pledge tools help Zuari Cement in India roll out the Pledge within their company:

Find out more about EDF's experience with the Pledge in Laos: 

Discover what are the main reasons that led Michelin Group to sign: 

Learn more about how the Pledge relates to the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation with Jack Moss, Executive Director of AquaFed:

Why did a chemical company like BASF sign the Pledge and how is it implementing it internally? 

Listen to the first Pledge signatory company, Nestlé, highlighting the importance of this initiative: 

Sign the pledge!

The signature process is quite straightforward: any person in a position to commit the company can sign by sending a written statement in an email to: fedotova@wbcsd.org

Example statement: 
This emails confirms that Name of the Company has committed to signing the ‘WBCSD Pledge for Access to Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the Workplace’.  We recognize that by signing this Pledge, Name of the Company commits to implementing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene at the workplace at an appropriate level of standard for all employees in all premises under our direct control within three years of signing the Pledge.  

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