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Blog | How safe water, sanitation and hygiene can improve performance at a hydropower site
Marie Le Texier's picture

How safe water, sanitation and hygiene can improve performance at a hydropower site

The WBCSD Pledge for Access to Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at the Workplace was launched at the World Water Week in September 2013. A year after, Electricité de France (EDF), one of IHA’s platinum members and among the first pledge signatories, released the first pledge case study together with the WBCSD on its own experience with implementation on a dam site during the construction phase in Laos. 

EDF facilities at Nam Theun IIEDF's case study demonstrates the “applicability” of the pledge to mobile remote worksites, along with factories or offices.

Are other hydropower companies ready to do the same and join the current 19 signatories?

1.    What is the WBCSD Pledge for Access to Safe WASH at the Workplace?

By signing it, companies commit to implementing access to safe WASH at the workplace at an appropriate level for all employees in all premises under direct control within three years.

Why does it matter? Well, at a time when the post-2015 development agenda is being shaped, it is worthwhile to remember that more than 1.8 billion people are still without access to safe drinking water, and more than 4 billion lack access to adequate sanitation.

A less often quoted figure, but nonetheless striking, estimates that the simple act of washing hands with soap can significantly cut the risk of diarrhoea by approximately 40 per cent .  

Why does it matter for you as a company? In a nutshell, many businesses have operations, employees, contractors and customers in countries lacking access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

Their economic, social and environmental impacts can cause illness or fatalities, impair productivity, and restrict markets for some products and services. 

2.    What’s in there for the hydropower sector?

More precisely, investing in safe WASH for your employees leads to:

  • A healthier and more productive workforce: Adequate access to safe WASH is associated with decreased absenteeism due to water-related diseases, and thus improved productivity.
  • Lower reputational risks and more secured social license to operate: Perceived mismanagement of water resources or infringement on the human right to water and sanitation can negatively impact businesses and possibly result in revoking the company’s social license to operate within certain communities. Good water management and provision of safe WASH allows them to lower this risk.
  • Increased brand value: Provision of access to safe WASH to all employees can also lead to tangible benefits, such as improved public perception, and thus increased brand value.
  • Expanded and more vibrant markets: Countries with higher percentages of the population with access to safe WASH enjoy higher growth. It is estimated that for every US dollar invested in water and sanitation, US$4.30 is generated in economic returns through increased productivity.
  • Demonstration of leadership in supporting global objectives: Ensuring safe WASH at the workplace contributes to the achievement of internationally recognised objectives such as the universal realisation of the human right to water and sanitation.

In a very straightforward manner, signing the pledge can also provide companies with an opportunity to communicate about good practice. For a company like EDF, for example, the signature of the pledge led to enhanced attention to something that the company was already doing in terms of occupational health and safety.

And it is bound to be the same for many companies in the hydropower sector, as the latter is renowned for its good practices in terms of employees' health and safety. In fact, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol includes health, human rights and water principles, all in sound alignment with the pledge.  

3.    How can hydropower companies get involved?

Before deciding to sign, I guess you need to understand what’s behind such a commitment, don’t you?

Well, the first good news is that this is a non-legally binding commitment: the implementation of the pledge aims to be integrated in existing company processes rather than responding to an externally imposed requirement.

Moreover, there are no formal reporting requirements, even though companies are encouraged to communicate externally about the pledge, while sharing their implementation experiences and feedback with the WBCSD.

I can hear your reaction already: what does it take to actually implement the pledge in practice? I was coming to it. Actually, the WBCSD developed some tools to support companies in implementing the pledge: both the self-assessment tool and the guiding principles for implementation, including points of reference for good practice, can be downloaded here.

Are you convinced? If yes, nothing can be simpler than the signing process: any person in a position to commit the company can sign by sending a written statement in an email.  

For more information, to download the support documents, EDF’s case study and watch signatories’ interviews, visit