The RAISE Health Initiative
Corporate Social Responsibility & Workplace Standards
RAISE Health is one of the few global health firms that has recognized that worker health needs to be addressed within the context of global corporate policies and systems for their operations and supply chains.
A range of global institutions now oversees an increasingly sophisticated system of standards and regulatory mechanisms for corporate social accountability and establishes policies and programs to protect workers, communities, and the environment. These mechanism are reflected in CSR codes and standards, corporate certification programs for fair labor and the environment, and workplace monitoring and reporting activities. And in 2011 with the United Nations’ adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which recognizes the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and perform human rights due diligence.
Workers’ primary and reproductive health needs are largely absent from policy development within these largely voluntary standards and regulatory mechanisms. Where women’s health is addressed, it is usually focused narrowly on preventing discriminatory pre-employment pregnancy tests, rather than addressing women and men workers access to critical services.
The RAISE Health approach recognizes that global corporate standards and national workplace policies and practices are inter-connected. It also works to bridge the divide between workplace health and public health that manifests itself at the national level, as divide between ministries of health, which are responsible for health standards and practices, and ministries of labor, which are responsible for workplaces, including occupational health. The idea is not to turn workplaces into primary care clinics. Yet it is important to recognize that accepted health practices and policies should apply regardless of wherever a doctor or nurse work
Meridian has developed new thinking about the need for bridging this divide for the benefit of both workers and business. Under RAISE Health, we have developed policies and practical models within the global system of standards for corporations and their supply chains in lower income countries to improve workplace health.
Business Case for Health
Meridian and its RAISE Health initiative is a leader in developing the business case for women’s and overall worker health in corporations and their global supply chains. We view the business case through three lens:
- The Return on Investment (ROI) from better workplace health policies, practices, and programs
- The ROI from existing health resources (sunk costs)
- The ROI from management systems for health that enable better use of resources, policies and programs
The RAISE team produced three ROI studies — two in partnership with BSR’s HERproject in Egypt, and Pakistan and one in Bangladesh, These look at direct returns to factories from reduced absenteeism and turnover and indirect benefits better morale, women’s empowerment and professional development, and improved worker-manager communications.
Many workplaces employ health staff — doctors nurses, paramedics, community health workers — but more often than not these providers do little more than care for minor wounds, hand out pain relievers, and send the worker home or to the hospital. They can do much more with their skills. Companies that would not put up with workers sitting around are more than willing to let their onsite health workers be idle much of the day.
This makes no sense. An unproductive health care worker is a waste of a valuable resource. Enabling workplace health providers requires integrating health into a company’s business systems and managing them as any other group of employees. The Meridian’s workplace health systems strengthening model and the Workplace Health Facility Guidelines are products to help companies improve the way they manage health.
Meridian is a leading advocate for the necessity of including women’s health in any corporate efforts on women’s empowerment. Women have become a driving force in our global economy particularly in developing economies. Many institutions, including multinational companies – from Nike to Walmart to KPMG – have recognized the need to expand economic opportunities for women proactively by fostering entrepreneurship, strengthening financial literacy, and promoting women into management positions.
Yet, for all the emphasis on empowering women in business, there is a danger of undermining these vital efforts by ignoring a key enabling factor for women to take advantage of these opportunities – access to reproductive health education and services. Such services remain largely ignored when business designs women’s empowerment programs and initiatives. A woman’s ability to enter the job market, hold a job and get promoted depends on her ability to control when she wants to have children and how many and her access to related health services for herself and her family.
RAISE Health designs policies and programs and develops models on women and men worker health aligned to the business interests and realities of the workplace. For women, a recognition of their specific health needs, from menstrual hygiene and hydration to family planning and child care, are essential. Access to contraception and family planning education empowers women to make informed decisions about whether and when to have children, reducing unintended pregnancies as well as maternal and newborn deaths. Make no mistake: this is good for the bottom line. Women workers who have unintended and unwanted pregnancies have business costs – turnover, absenteeism, lower productivity. Corporations through their value chain have enormous opportunities to address the needs of women workers in simple, inexpensive ways.
Meridian/RAISE Health addresses workplace health from both a business case and human rights lens.
Access to the highest available standard of health, which includes reproductive health (RH) and family planning (FP), has long been recognized as a basic human right and vital to the quality of life of individuals and communities. The international community has developed well-defined body of rights established by United Nations and International Labor Organization treaties and conventions. Efforts to clarify the roles and responsibilities of corporations regarding human rights are newer but no less significant developments. Recent standards developed within the UN system including the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Women’s Empowerment Principles
RAISE Health focuses on expanding the notion of workers’ health rights beyond the more narrow occupational health and safety framework that guides how most corporations and their supply chains view workplace health. The responsibility for companies “to respect” human rights and perform due diligence under the voluntary UN Guiding Principles should consider a broader set of health rights for workers. These include often unrecognized rights violations relating to their lack of access to health services, the quality of workplace health providers and products, and protections for confidentiality, among others.
Health is a fundamental right – and acute and less visible violations do real harm to workers, communities and companies themselves. It is in the self-interest of business to address worker health rights, as companies that do so have improved productivity and worker-management relations. Respecting the right to health is not about workplaces becoming primary care facilities but instead about applying better management and workplace health policies and practices.