Sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is central to meeting global development goals on poverty, health, education, and economic growth. Corporate water users have the potential to play an influential role in delivery of Sustainable Development Goal 6, “ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. As well as joint advocacy, opportunities include driving improved access within operational facilities, local communities, and within supply chains.
It is estimated that one-in-five people are employed in globalised supply chains, and that 80-90% of these people work within micro- small- and medium-sized enterprises and dispersed farm production systems in developing countries. Given this overlap with geographies where the WASH challenge is most acute, the potential for a positive contribution is significant. Water stewardship initiatives have so far been typified by a relatively narrow focus on maintaining the quantity and quality of water resources available to commercial users by engagement at site and local basin scale.
WaterAid, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate – including through their recent white paper – have advanced understanding that while physical and regulatory risks relating to water resource management and corporate water use are important, socio-economic water risks can only be mitigated when there is universal and sustainable access to water-related services. SDG6, which explicitly links WASH to water resource management, further strengthens the message that: to be effective in mitigating shared water challenges, water stewardship by companies must consider water holistically. Companies in the vanguard of water stewardship are incorporating a focus on WASH into their water stewardship strategies.
To date, these have mainly focused on company provision in core operations or on provision to local communities through NGO partnerships. There has been limited focus on extending positive influence to drive action through supply chains. There is a clear opportunity to facilitate greater corporate involvement in the drive for universal WASH and attainment of SDG 6 through improved understanding of business benefits and approaches. To explore and realise this opportunity, WaterAid, WBCSD, and the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate jointly commissioned Water Witness International (WWI) to conduct research to guide strategy and action. The objectives are two-fold:
1) Strengthen the knowledge base for corporate action on WASH in supply chains, develop compelling case studies to illustrate the business case, and identify opportunities to improve impact and performance.
2) Scope and make recommendations on the most impactful ways that WASH could be integrated into voluntary standards, and identify standards systems interested in collaboration with the partners to support and document action against SDG6. This report provides a high-level summary of the research.
Following an overview of the methodology and sources of information, it sets out key findings and recommendations for the practice and policy community, and for further consideration by the commissioning partners. Case studies accompany this report and detail how companies are taking action on WASH in supply chains.