By Aaron Pressman
June 26, 2018

Jeans maker Levi Strauss has doubled the number of workers in its supply chain who have participated in a program to improve their quality of life by teaching them about health, sanitation, and critical thinking.

Close to 200,000 workers in apparel factories worldwide that make Levis products have taken part in the company’s “Improving Worker Well-Being” initiative, double the number from last year, Levis CEO Chip Bergh said on Tuesday.

“The apparel industry has historically chased low-cost labor around the world because it’s still largely done manually, so most of our product is made in developing markets, mostly by young women,” Bergh said, speaking at Fortune’s CEO Initiative conference in San Francisco. “Investing back in the workers is a big thing.”

The program often includes a 10-week course to teach workers in some of the world’s poorest countries about health, hygiene, and sanitation, as well as communication and critical thinking. For factory owners, the program more than pays for itself by creating a happier, healthier workforce, Bergh said.

“By investing back in their employees and helping them live a better life, that had a positive ROI,” he explained. “We’ve demonstrated a $3 to $4 per dollar invested return on investment.”

Levi’s has also opened the program to other U.S. companies that contract with low-cost manufacturers abroad, attracting other participants such as Target and Cardinal Health, Bergh said.

Levis also is continuing to cut back on the amount of chemicals used in the garment making process. A new laser process can create distressed jeans safely and more quickly than the prior chemical-based procedure, he said. The company is moving to use only dozens of chemical mixes, instead of thousands previously, he said.

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