Scaling Corporate Action on Access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Supply Chains


20 October, 2016




This paper is the result of an ongoing collaborative research project between WBCSD, WaterAid and CEO Water Mandate, with a view of identifying the right ways in which companies can support employee access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) through their supply chains.

The paper’s key findings are:

• Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is critical to meeting the array of Sustainable Development Goals set out by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

• US$ 1 invested in WASH returns around USD 4 to the economy (Hutton, 2015), at least partly through increased productivity, though defining the tangible business case for individual companies and specific interventions remains a key challenge.

• Businesses recognize the importance of WASH in their supply chains and progressive companies are beginning to invest in WASH to improve worker well-being, increase productivity, build resilient supply chains through increased trust with suppliers, avoid costs, and ensure their social license to operate.

• WASH is not a standalone issue. Addressing WASH is fundamental water stewardship practice and has positive implications for a variety of other sustainability priorities, from labor and human rights to sustainable agriculture, and should be integrated into existing policies and practices. This benefit needs to be more clearly communicated to businesses and their suppliers.

• Corporate actions on WASH in supply chains are diverse, from conventional compliance models which may only reach direct suppliers or contract factories, to more collaborative models that focus on worker wellbeing across supply chain tiers and can include raw materials.

• Many corporate WASH interventions only include hardware – toilets and taps. The most effective WASH interventions also include cultural and behavioral aspects.

• Major challenges remain for how to effectively address WASH in agricultural settings.

• Balancing the role of business with the role of government is still unclear. Understanding the role that business can play to increase government capacity to deliver on local water governance or to support other effective community level interventions can help address larger, systemic problems that also impact businesses.