WaterAid helps businesses build Covid-19 resilient supply chains by prioritising soap and water for workers

Posted by
Maya Verber
21 May 2020
Workers at a ready-made garment factory wash hands having learned about importance of handwashing through hygiene behaviour training.

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As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions start to be relaxed across the globe and businesses consider how to re-establish operations, WaterAid is providing advice to companies on ensuring access to water, sanitation and hygiene within their supply chains.

The international charity has today launched its guidance Prioritising hygiene for workforce health and business resilience  and is inviting companies to work with them to bring sustainable changes within their supply chains that will improve resilience and productivity.

Globally, it has been estimated that every dollar invested in clean water, good hygiene and decent toilets returns $5.50 in increased productivity. The importance of these basic facilities has become even more apparent, as regular handwashing with soap and physical distancing are vital to prevent the spread of infection and should form the foundation of any plan to resume work. 

Yet in the world’s poorest countries, which are home to millions of workers employed in apparel and agricultural supply chains, implementing these measures will be a huge challenge.

Unavoidable physical proximity coupled with a lack of soap and water for workers to wash their hands - and even a lack of knowledge about when they should be doing so - mean that the threat posed to business by COVID-19 is far from over. 

If access to clean water and good hygiene facilities are not considered, not only will millions of lives be at risk, but businesses will face significant challenges in re-establishing their supply chain.

Ruth Romer, Senior Private Sector Advisor at WaterAid, said:

“The health of tea pickers, farmers, artisans, and textile producers and other supply chain workers in the global south, underpin the success of businesses in a post COVID-19 world. Global supply chains will only survive if businesses take action when it comes to hygiene. 

“Improving access to clean water, hygiene behaviour training and physical distancing procedures are paramount to the potential of the sustained reopening and operations in field and factory contexts. 

“With one in ten people globally lacking clean water at home and one in four having no decent toilets, it’s also important to consider the communities where workers live, to reinforce workplace resilience.”

WaterAid has been working with global supply chain workers; supporting the provision of clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for more than a decade with the support of global partners including Diageo, Gap Inc, H&M, Unilever, Twinings and HSBC.

Michael Alexander, Diageo’s Global Head of Environment, said:

“For Diageo, providing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is of vital importance to supporting the communities where we live, work, source and sell – it has never been more relevant. 

“This is a core priority embedded within our approach to sustainability and we have been working in partnership with WaterAid for more than a decade to improve access - in our supply chain and the communities near our operations. 

“We are proud to work with WaterAid and strongly support their emergency response to the pandemic in many vulnerable communities.”

As a partner of global governments in their fight against COVID-19, WaterAid is uniquely positioned to support the private sector in their COVID-19 response plans. The charity has a global footprint and four decades of expertise within the sector and is offering to develop bespoke guidance, tailored to businesses who approach them.

WaterAid’s guidance on prioritising hygiene for business resilience, COVID-19 Guidance: Prioritising hygiene for workforce health and business resilience, is available at: washmatters.wateraid.org/publications/hygiene-supply-chain-resilience-covid.

To discuss water, sanitation and hygiene management strategy and bespoke materials tailored to your company, contact [email protected]


For more information, please contact:
Maya Verber, Senior Media Officer; [email protected].
Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552,
or email [email protected].

Notes to Editors:


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org