The right to access safe drinking water

20 March 2017

UPM promotes access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation facilities and good hygiene by implementing the WBCSD’s WASH at the Workplace Pledge.

“Our work programme for access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) aims to promote ways in which businesses can address this most fundamental issue in their spheres of influence and help close the gaps on WASH access,” explains Sara Traubel from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

WBCSD launched the Pledge for Access to Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at the workplace in 2013.

The initiative offers businesses the opportunity to contribute concretely to the implementation of the United Nations’ global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By signing the WASH Pledge, companies commit to providing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all employees in premises under their direct control within three years of signing.

”The WASH Pledge is an excellent way for businesses to ensure that they are in line with international best practice on the provision of clean drinking water, safe sanitation and proper hygiene practices for their employees,” Traubel adds.

Getting the house in order

UPM’s CEO Jussi Pesonen signed the WASH Pledge in 2014. As the first phase of the three-year implementation plan, UPM conducted the WASH Pledge Self-Assessment survey in all production sites in early autumn 2015. The survey concerned the local water, sanitation and hygiene conditions for employees at the sites.

“UPM is committed to taking care of the health of its employees and external contractors by taking preventive actions to minimise the risks related to water quality, sanitation and hygiene,” confirms Chief Physician Tero Kemppainen from UPM. New UPM-level recommendations are going to be launched to ensure that the improvements will be completed.

In 2016, UPM continued the evaluation for its sales network and terminals. So far, the survey results have proved that UPM is compliant with the WASH Pledge requirements. There were no significant differences between business areas and sites operating around the world. Some common areas of improvement were identified, such as the frequency with which the sanitary facilities and washrooms are cleaned. E.g. in Raflatac Johor terminal in Malaysia the washroom was renovated and new showers for men and women were installed.

Committing businesses

Traubel thanks UPM for the very structured approach it has taken to performing the self-assessments, addressing the gaps and communicating internally about the initiative and the need to address WASH.

It was courageous for UPM to take the lead in the industry as the first forestry company to sign the initiative,” she says.

“Forest industries often have large-scale forestry sites in countries where hygiene awareness is very low and on-grid water or sanitation provision is not an option. For this reason, leading forestry companies such as UPM can have a significant impact by providing and promoting access to WASH in their operations and beyond.”

UPM will continue the programme by assessing its forestry and wood sourcing facilities in 2017.

At present, 42 multinational companies have signed the WASH Pledge and are sharing their experiences, challenges and solutions among the community of WASH Pledge signatories.

However, the global situation is very alarming: there are over 1.8 billion people without access to safe drinking water and an estimated 4.1 billion lacking access to adequate sanitation.

“The challenge is to make people understand what the lack of clean water and sanitation means not only from a personal and societal perspective, but also from a business perspective. It can have an important impact on a company’s productivity, reputation and other safety and environmental issues,” Traubel concludes.

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