Global Handwashing Day: Driving business action through the WASH Pledge

Handwashing is the single most effective way to stop the spread of infections, and many companies like Xylem are committed to establishing a worldwide movement through the WASH Pledge

Published: 15 Oct 2020
Author: Austin Alexander and Deepa Maggo
Type: Insight

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of a virus or other pathogens is also one of the simplest: hand hygiene, especially through handwashing with soap. Every year, the Global Handwashing Day serves as an opportunity to increase awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap as an affordable, effective way to prevent diseases. Now more than ever, as the world battles a pandemic, it is important to sustain adequate handwashing practices.

With over 4.2 billion people lacking access to safely managed sanitation services, ensuring access to hygiene facilities and making hand hygiene available to all requires a multi-faceted, society-wide approach.  

Businesses have critical a role to play in raising awareness of and providing access to handwashing and other sanitation facilities. In fact, companies like Xylem, a leading water technology company, have rooted commitments to foster responsible practices that deliver social impact by increasing access to safe water and sanitation facilities. 

Sustainability is core to Xylem’s business strategy. The company recognizes that it has a unique and powerful opportunity - and responsibility - to advance sustainability and create both economic and social value in the communities it serves. In 2019, Xylem introduced a new, expanded sustainability strategy and slate of ambitious goals, that deepen the company’s commitment to advance sustainability across its customer solutions and technologies, its business practices and operations, and humanitarian work to benefit communities.

Water and sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education is fundamental to this commitment. In 2019 alone, the company educated 320,000 people about WASH and the Value of Water. The company also set a goal to ensure that 100% of Xylem employees have access to clean water and safe sanitation at work, at home and during natural disasters.

To further its efforts, Xylem is a signatory of the WBCSD Pledge for access to safe water and sanitation and hygiene. The Pledge is an opportunity for companies to contribute concretely to the implementation of SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation for all), while at the same time ensuring that they provide international best practice on WASH.

By signing the WASH Pledge, companies commit to implementing or continuing to implement access to WASH at the workplace at an appropriate level of standard for all employees in all premises, under their control within three years of signature.

The WASH Pledge aims to establish a worldwide movement of forward-looking businesses who are approaching WASH at the workplace seriously and therefore drive more companies to become signatories of the Pledge. Under the Pledge, businesses are also encouraged to address WASH across their value chain, including among their suppliers, as well as in the communities that surround their workplaces and/or where their workers live.

Xylem has used the resources and tools – such as the WBCSD self-assessment tool – provided through the Pledge to measure and improve its WASH performance. The company has extended the Pledge to its supply chain requiring all its direct suppliers to adopt the Pledge and further drive its mission of access to WASH for all.

Numerous Xylem suppliers across different sectors and geographies have signed the Pledge and have embarked on the journey towards raising standards of WASH access to their employees and communities they operate in. For many of the businesses, the Pledge and its implementation also aligns well with their sustainability goals, and many have already initiated their self-assessment using the WASH Pledge Self-assessment tool.

Xylem’s leadership has successfully driven business action, bringing their supplier companies together towards a common mission ensuring universal access to WASH.

“We welcome this commitment and are excited to partner with Xylem on the WASH Pledge program.  As an ISO 14001-certified contract manufacturer, we are committed to providing innovative solutions around sustainable manufacturing practices.  We care deeply about protecting the environment while also improving the health and safety of the working environment for our employees.  As part of our pledge, we will continue to improve access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene within the workplace and engage with our supply base to promote the WASH Pledge,” said Michael Du, CEO of Providence Limited Enterprise, a supplier to Xylem.

Xylem’s initiative is a clear demonstration of how forward-looking businesses can mobilize their network to create momentum at a global scale on an issue of societal importance. Xylem’s commitment and actions will yield direct returns to their business by strengthening their operations and supply chains against future shocks like that posed by the current pandemic.

We encourage other businesses to join the WASH Pledge now and drive business action on one of the biggest public health issues of our time.

Austin Alexander is Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, Xylem

Deepa Maggo is Manager, Water at WBCSD

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