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Finance & Investment
Mastercard, Clothing Giants Partner to Help Garment Workers Secure Financial Futures

By partnering with companies with labor-intensive supply chains, Mastercard is creating digital solutions to give workers more control and transparency over their earnings and savings.

This week, Mastercard launched a global effort to pay garment factory workers digitally, a pivot the industry is making from traditional cash payroll to ensure workers receive their hard-earned wages securely and consistently. With industry partners including clothing giants Levi Strauss & Co., Marks & Spencer and VF Corporation; and global nonprofit BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), the program aims to improve the wellbeing of factory workers who currently lack access to the financial tools and services that can help them and their families thrive.

Around the globe, 230 million adults — nearly 85 percent of adults in low-income countries — who work in the private sector receive their wages in cash. But getting paid in cash creates significant challenges for both employees and factory owners. Not only are workers at risk for theft, they also have limited ability to save and often have to take days off to travel miles to pay household bills.

Mastercard and its partners are coordinating pilots in Egypt and Cambodia with a hybrid digital payment solution. Participating factories will have the opportunity to deposit wages directly into workers’ accounts. Workers can then activate debit, prepaid cards or digital wallets through which they can pay bills or send money directly to family and friends. Providing hands-on peer training on digital financial services, financial planning and management, and how to discuss finances with family members can help make workers feel comfortable and confident transacting digitally.

By partnering with companies that use labor-intensive supply chains, including garment manufacturing, Mastercard is creating digital solutions and delivering training support to give workers more control and transparency over their earnings and savings. The ability to receive regular wage payments gives factory workers the means to step into the world’s formal economy and can lead to a better quality of life for them and their families. The program also has the potential to specifically benefit women, who make up 68 percent of the garment worker industry, yet are often the most financially vulnerable.

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“At Mastercard, our vision is to ultimately build a new ecosystem of partners — garment industry, technology, not-for-profit organizations, factories, banks — that work together to deliver social impact at scale. It’s an important step in helping workers feel safer, be more resilient and more financially independent,” says Sue Kelsey, EVP of Prepaid Solutions at Mastercard. “We’re committed to help digitize wages throughout supply chains across industries and continents, turning access into usage — and in turn, fueling growth of local economies.”

This collaboration between The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and BSR supports the digital payroll initiative through BSR’s grassroots HERfinance Digital Wages education program. HERfinance is one pillar of HERproject — a workplace-based women’s empowerment program in global supply chains, which has empowered more than one million workers with knowledge and skills on health, financial inclusion and gender equality since 2007.

“Digitizing wages is an area where companies can make relatively small investments and have huge positive impacts, especially for low-income women workers,” says HERproject Director Christine Svarer. “But to realize these positive impacts, it is vital to ensure that workers have the skills and knowledge to benefit from the transition and that factories are supported during the process. We are delighted to be partnering with The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and leveraging our experience in this space to make digital wages a success story.”

In an age where there is increasing importance placed on sustainable practices and worker well-being, digital payroll can also create cost savings, increased efficiency and greater transparency for companies. Garment factories that shift to digital payroll, for instance, experience a 53 percent savings in staff time for the teams that count and disburse wages, according to data collected through HERfinance. And moving to digital payments increases access to savings accounts for factory workers from 28 percent to 43 percent.

“Mastercard is an excellent partner for a pilot program like this, due to the infrastructure they have built around digital payment systems, coupled with our longstanding commitment to the wellbeing of workers,” says Michael Kobori, VP of Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co — which in 2016 expanded its industry-leading Worker Wellbeing initiative; then shared its best practices, tools and standards to maximize its reach and impacts. “We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the pilot, and hope this advances efforts to realize the potential of digital payments to benefit workers across apparel supply chains.”

The first step in maximizing the benefits of digital payroll for women is ensuring the garment workers’ needs remain at the forefront of product development. Access to tools is a key component, as is usage, but research has found that 75 percent of female garment workers do not have basic financial literacy.

“As the UK’s biggest clothing retailer, we recognize the importance of collaborating with others in the industry to create momentum and change,” says Lydia Hopton, Global Ethical Trade Manager at Marks & Spencer. “Paying people, particularly women, through a digital solution creates economic opportunities for them and their families, and it’s a project we’re proud to be working with Mastercard and other global brands on. Together, we can create sustainable change to improve people’s lives worldwide.”